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Governor Embraces Adirondack Council's Standards on Public Land Swaps, Gains Crucial Support for Constitutional Amendment

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, Tuesday, June 11, 2013

GOVERNOR EMBRACES ADIRONDACK COUNCIL’S STANDARDS ON PUBLIC LAND SWAPS, GAINS CRUCIAL SUPPORT FOR CONSITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
Proposed Amendment would Add 1,500+ Acres to ‘Forever Wild’ Forest Preserve
in Exchange for 200 Acres;
Sen. Little, Assemblyman Stec Commend Council for Agreement

LEWIS, N.Y. – The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization today said Gov. Andrew Cuomo had gained its support for a proposed Constitutional Amendment by embracing and exceeding the organization’s principles for judging the merits of land exchanges involving the “forever wild” Adirondack Forest Preserve.

“We gave the governor our list of specific criteria, our principles for determining whether we will support a proposed amendment affecting the Forest Preserve,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “We had withheld our support until now because we lacked any specifics on how the proposed exchange would significantly benefit the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve, as well as the rural communities of Lewis and Willsboro.

“This is a victory for wilderness. State officials have now applied the Adirondack Council’s principles to the details of the proposed exchange,” said Janeway. “They have modified and expanded the proposal in response to our concerns. The proposed land swap now exceeds our standards for supporting Constitutional Amendments involving the Forever Wild clause.

“The people of the state would give up 200 acres of Forest Preserve next to an existing wollastonite mine, and receive at least 1,500 acres of land containing better wildlife habitat and greater recreational opportunities,” Janeway said. “Over time, those 200 acres will come back into the Forest Preserve.”

“The Adirondack Council’s announcement of support is a tremendous boost for this amendment,” said NYS Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, whose district covers most of the eastern side of the Adirondack Park. “The Council’s advocacy is something lawmakers in Albany are looking for and will help ensure passage in both houses and success later this year on the statewide ballot. This balanced approach to add to the forest preserve and help a major employer in Essex County remain viable will benefit the environment and the economy of the Adirondacks for many years to come. The Council deserves praise for working out a solution to this long-standing problem for NYCO and the people it employs in Lewis and Willsboro.”

“As an Adirondack 46er and the son of a Forest Ranger, I have a strong appreciation for the natural resources of the Adirondack Park, as well as the challenges facing Adirondack communities,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, R, C, I-Queensbury, whose district includes Lewis and Willsboro. “I applaud the Adirondack Council for identifying the most critical considerations for judging land swaps, and for offering support once its criteria were met. I am pleased that Governor Cuomo has met this high standard and that we are working together to strike a balance between both the Adirondack Park's economic and environmental needs."

The Adirondack Mountain Club also supports the proposed NYCO Land Swap.

The Adirondack Park is a 6-million-acre (9,300-square-mile) reserve of mixed public and private lands. About half of the park is public land, protected from logging, lease, sale and development by the NYS Constitution’s Forever Wild clause (Article 14, Section 1). The rest is private land, devoted to commercial forestry, outdoor recreation, private retreats and 130 small communities. It also contains a few dozen widely scattered industrial sites and mines (garnet, anorthosite, sand, gravel, etc.).

The Forever Wild clause says the park’s public forests “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” Any swaps require permission from two separately elected Legislatures and from the state’s voters. It is the strongest public forest protection law in the United States, and one of the oldest. It was adopted at the Constitutional Convention of 1894 to safeguard the park’s forests and protect its abundant lakes and rivers.

Last year an amendment passed both house of the Legislature that would authorize a land swap between the Forest Preserve and NYCO Minerals, which currently mines wollastonite on a parcel it owns next to the Forest Preserve here. NYCO also owns processing facilities in nearby Willsboro. Wollastonite is a white mineral used primarily in ceramics and as a substitute for asbestos in automobile brakes and clutches. It is also used to make metals, paints and plastics.

“If approved by the voters, this would not be the first time that a private company obtained permission for a mutually beneficial Forest Preserve swap,” Janeway said. “In 1979, the voters approved a swap with International Paper Co. that brought about 10,000 acres of new Forest Preserve to the public in exchange for 7,000 acres of public land. That deal increased the size of the West Canada Lakes Wilderness and reshaped the ownership patterns to make both state and private lands easier to manage.”

“In this case, the public would receive a seven-to-one advantage in acres,” Janeway explained. “The public would get 1,500 acres of new Forest Preserve right away, in exchange for 200 acres of public land where NYCO believes it will find more wollastonite. Its mine runs up to the edge of public lands, and the company wants permission to continue forward disturbing an estimated 50 of the adjoining parcel’s 200 acres. When it is done mining, or if the parcel doesn’t contain the minerals suspected, NYCO will return these 200 acres to the Forest Preserve -- after replanting trees on the surface.”

The new state lands would be comprised of five new parcels adjacent to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area, plus a sixth adjoining the Taylor Pond Wild Forest and the Bouquet River. The parcels would make excellent additions to the wilderness, which is the smallest of the park’s 17 wilderness areas.

If approved by the Legislature before June 20, the proposed Constitutional Amendment would be presented to the voters on the November ballot. If the amendment is approved by the voters, the Legislature would pass another bill in 2014 to detail how the amendment would be carried out.

“The Adirondack Council urged that those details be worked out now, so the organization could judge the net benefits of the proposed land swap and advise other citizens whether such a swap might help or harm the Forest Preserve,” Janeway explained. “With the commitment that these 1,507 acres are the minimum that will be protected, the Council will urge the Legislature to approve this measure, so it can appear on the November statewide ballot. We will work aggressively if necessary to ensure that enabling legislation guarantees protection of these 1,507 acres, including the parcels identified.”

Here are the Adirondack Council’s criteria for judging Constitutional Amendments, and newly released details on this proposal.

1. The proposed land exchange must be narrowly defined, specific in purpose, limited in scope, and be supported by important public policy objectives;

The swap affects only the parcels named, adds important conservation lands to the Forest Preserve and assists local communities economically.

2. The land currently in the Forest Preserve proposed for exchange cannot have unique biological, environmental, or hydrologic features, cannot include critical wildlife pathways, and cannot be part of a contiguous parcel that would become non-contiguous after the exchange;

Surveys show no significant biological, environmental, wildlife or recreational resources on the 200 acres being traded to NYCO.

3. The ecological, biological, hydrological, physiographic, and/or locational qualities of the parcel(s) to be received should be superior to those of the parcel(s) being exchanged, and these qualities of the parcel(s) to be exchanged should be such that the parcel(s) would be a candidate for addition to the Forest Preserve absent any exchange proposal.

The 1,507 acres to be added to the Forest Preserve contain important wildlife habitat, more than three miles of stream, sensitive fisheries, and recreational resources. Much of this area is also identified in New York State’s Open Space Conservation Plan as lands that should be protected as part of the Lake Champlain Watershed priority project.

4. If : a. the land received will not add significantly more acres to the Forest Preserve than contained in the acreage of lands taken out of the Preserve, or; b. the appraised value of the parcel(s) being received is not substantially higher than the appraised value of the parcel(s) being given up, then the parcel(s) to be received must be overwhelmingly superior to that being exchanged, taking into consideration biodiversity, flora, fauna, animal pathways, watershed characteristics, streams, lakes and other water bodies in the parcel(s);

The 1,507 acres coming into the Forest Preserve are better habitat for fish and wildlife, would be worth considerably more in ecological value, and would have greater dollar value than the 200 acres given up.

5. Any impact of the proposed exchange on local communities must be, on balance, substantially to the benefit of those communities;

For the communities that are gateways to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area, Hurricane Mountain Wilderness Area and the Taylor Pond Wild Forest, including Lewis and Willsboro, the swap would safeguard more than 100 NYCO jobs, and improve recreational access.

6. Taken as a whole, the proposed land exchange must achieve a significant improvement to the Forest Preserve and/or a long term benefit either to the local communities being affected or to the People of the State in general.

The Adirondack Council will treat any proposed amendment to Article XIV, Section 1 as an individual and unique event, requiring its own review, assessment, and comment.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. Defending the Forever Wild Clause of the constitution is part of that. So too is the Council’s support for vibrant and economically sustainable communities, as an essential part of the Park. The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action.

-end-

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