In the News  Archive

Time short for Adirondack mining amendment

Adirondack Almanack
May 23, 2013

ALBANY -- The state Assembly member who would carry a constitutional amendment that could salvage dozens of jobs at NYCO Minerals in Willsboro said time is running out if Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration wants the issue on the November ballot.

Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Bob Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, said Thursday he has yet to receive word from the state Department of Environmental Conservation that the agency is ready to move forward with the proposed amendment.

The amendment would give NYCO access to 200 acres of state Forest Preserve in the Jay Mountain Wilderness area in return for the company turning over about 2,000 acres to the state.

Any amendment to the state constitution must twice survive vetting in both the Assembly and state Senate, by consecutive sessions of the Legislature, before going to voters. The NYCO amendment, and another land swap to end the century-old Township 40 land dispute between the state and residents of Raquette Lake, breezed last year through both houses.

But an amendment’s second vetting is almost always a substantially tougher pull, and with three weeks left in Albany’s session, Sweeney won’t move the bill without time to consider the bill.

“I told them not to come back in the last week of session,” Sweeney said of recent conversations with DEC. “I’m not going to consider anything that pops up at the end of session because this is the one that goes to voters.”

Company officials have said that, without the amendment, jobs and investment would be lost in Willsboro and Lewis. The amendment would grant NYCO access to a vein of wollastonite (used in the manufacture of plastic, adhesives and paints) that plunges from the company’s pit to the Forest Preserve,

The NYCO and Township 40 amendments passed during the final moments of last year’s legislative session.

The administration’s reason for the holdup was unclear, although it might be caused by negotiations between the players, Sweeney said.

DEC is working with NYCO and Township 40 landowners to identify properties that would be traded for the Forest Preserve lands, said agency spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

DEC is “hopeful” both amendments will be passed this session, DeSantis said.

NYCO has for months been in negotiations with landowners abutting the Jay Mountain Wilderness in its search for the property needed for the land swap.

Senator Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, is carrying the legislation in the upper house. It was introduced earlier this month in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Environmental group Protect the Adirondacks railed against the NYCO amendment earlier this month, calling it a dangerous precedent that could open the state’s most protected forests to industrial development. Protect the Adirondacks Executive Director Peter Bauer said NYCO was exaggerating the jobs that would be lost if the amendment fails.

Adirondack Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth said this week his group is backing the amendment, because the economic benefits and the volume of land that would be added to the Forest Preserve outweigh any legal hypotheticals.

The Mountain Club, along with the Adirondack Council, hold substantial sway in Albany. The Adirondack Council has yet to take a stand on the issue, according to that group’s spokesman, John Sheehan.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in an opinion filed this month with the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote the proposed amendment would merely “establish an exception,” to the constitutional ban on the privatization of the Forest Preserve, and have no other effect on the state Constitution.

It’s believed the NYCO amendment could be reintroduced next year without having to start the process from scratch, officials said, which could put it on the ballot in November 2014. But legislative aides were seeking clarification on whether the amendment would be affected if it didn’t move before the end of the 2013 session on June 20.

“I like our chances,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who inherited the duties of shepherding the NYCO bill from his predecessor Teresa Sayward. “It’s a solid plan, good for both the environmental and the economy.”

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