A proposed permit amendment to NYCO’s Seventy Road and Oak Hill mining facilities would result in a increase in the potential number of truckloads between the facilities and NYCO’s processing plant in Willsboro. Pictured above: A truck rounds a corner on Wells Hill Road in Lewis.
LEWIS — Residents and environmental watchdogs had NYCO officials and Adirondack Park Agency (APA) reps up against the ropes during a public hearing July 2 designed to discuss NYCO’s plans to expand mining operations at their facility in Lewis.
The public consensus appeared clear: An adjudicatory hearing is needed, residents and environmental groups argued, to measure quality of life issues, an increase in truck traffic and the environmental impact.
NYCO dispatched engineer Lindsay Stevens to make the pitch for the facility’s plan to expand one of the three blast quarries in the United States that harvests wollastonite, a limestone-derived mineral known for its durability and strength.
Stevens said the permit application would allow expansion of three mining zones; the increase of weekday mining operations by an hour on each end of the day and a bump in truck traffic from the mine on Seventy and Oak Hill Roads to the Graymount Quarry on Route 9 and the processing plant in Willsboro.
The end is near for the current mining area, she said. NYCO estimates the remaining 500,000 tons of wollastonite ore will be depleted within the next two years. An additional 600,000 tons of reserves are left in a section south of the current mine in the area where NYCO wants to expand.
According to NYCO, added excavation zones would extend the Seventy Road operation for another three years.
NYCO hopes to increase the permitted excavation limit at the Seventy Road facility by 15 acres to a total 69 acres. They aim to increase what they refer to an “affected area” at the Seventy Road facility from 89.9 acres to 132.4.
The project, Stevens said, would result in an permanent impact to about an acre of wetlands at the Seventy Road facility and construction of a wetland mitigation area approximately 2.2 acres in size at the Oak Hill facility.
Other environmental impacts, according to the Environmental Notice Bulletin posted on the Department of Conservation’s website, include the disturbance of 1,502 feet of an unnamed tributary of the Derby Brook at the Seventy Road mine and the rerouting of an unnamed stream “a few inches deep and a foot wide.”
Stevens said the permit would give NYCO another three years.
Future test mining on the state-owned Lot 8 is unrelated to the permit process.
Stevens said the permit would see an increase in truckloads to 100 per day between April 1 and Nov. 30.
Currently, 45 full loads travel to the processing plant in Willsboro daily.
Stevens said the proposal, which includes an alteration of the routes, would actually result in a net decrease of eight total loads per day from the APA-mandated cap.
Peter Bauer, executive director of the environmental advocacy group Protect the Adirondacks!, repeatedly bored into officials before estimating that the increase would result in one truck “screeching by homes every 3.5 minutes.”
Bauer also noted the permit approval would result in an aggregate 91 to 150 trucks per day from Oak Hill to Graymount and pressed APA Environmental Program Specialist Thomas Saehrig on the impact on quality of life for residents along the route and if a cumulative impact study had been conducted.
“That hasn’t been decided yet,” Saehrig conceded.
“This cries out for an adjudicatory hearing,” Bauer said.
Several residents, including Barbara Dansmore, pointed out that the number of trucks was actually double owing to the empty trucks coming back.
She, too, called for an adjudicatory hearing and cited the sense of cooperation that characterized the 1998 permit process.
“Of course we want business to expand,” she said. “It just needs to be agreeable to the residents.”
Lake Placid resident John Knox, who owns a second home in Lewis, cited dissatisfaction with blasting-related damage to his residence and expressed skepticism about independent traffic monitoring to ensure that NYCO abided by APA regulations.
Regional Mine Operations Manager Brian Glackin said NYCO has a certified scale. Contractors don’t get paid until they have driven over it, added Mark Buckley, a safety manager at the facility.
“All trucks are weighed and the numbers are reported to the APA.”
Glackin said that while the APA could hypothetically conduct an audit, he conceded that there was no independent voice to ensure the regulations were being followed.
Willsboro resident Laura Smith said her town was an integral part of the process.
“It’s terrifying with trucks on your tail — what comes down must come back,” she said. “And the constant droning 24/7, elderly people can’t even open their windows. We can’t even use kayaks in Willsboro Bay. And this is going to be increased.”
Jane Rasonowski also called for an adjudicatory hearing.
“Something needs to be worked out with the school system,” she said, referring to the increased traffic.
While the drivers are very skilled, she said, she expressed concern about possible accidents.
“I go to work early so I can miss the trucks,” she said. “And who will pay for the wear and tear on the highways? There has to be a balance, and the APA is charged with finding that balance.”
Adirondack Council Conservation Director Rocci Aguirre urged the spotlight be kept on the separate permit that would allow for exploration and possible mining on Lot 8, the 200-acre parcel that is part of the state’s forest preserve.
“While some may argue these are two wholly separate issues, the Council feels the possible addition of Lot 8 changes the variables involved and needs to be fully accounted for in the current mining permit application,” he said.
Aguirre said exploratory activities on Lot 8 would “complicate and exacerbate” noise issues on Seventy Road, and the loosening of restrictions would only compound the quality of life and environmental issues.
The devil is in the details, he said, and in a 1,000-page document, it is important to get the facts straight and give the permit due consideration.
“The Council recognizes that even under normal circumstances, mining activity has inherent noise, traffic and environmental issues,” he said. “Our concern, in this case, is that there are extraordinary considerations in this case that warrant an even higher level of review and consideration.”
Dan Plumley, a spokesman for Adirondack Wild, said past planning has been inadequate for the goal of seeing restoration of the ecological integrity of the impacted land.
The surrounding Jay Mountain Wilderness, he said, enriches the area, largely due to the Northern hardwood ecosystem, diverse flora and fauna and unique soil makeup.
“If this expansion goes through fully, it will cut off ecosystem connectivity,” he said. “Just the road issues alone warrant due process for an adjudicatory hearing.”
Citing an environmental specialist, he said the impacts of a possible expansion will extend far beyond the footprint of the expansion and well into the Jay Mountain Wilderness.
“There is an astounding lack of comprehensive biological and ecological inventory and analysis to determine what those impacts may be,” he said, “and public agencies are obligated to ensure public trust.”
In a letter to the APA, he also questioned if the liaison committees between NYCO, town officials and local residents were still in effect.
“The public has not been informed of the resources, and that’s a shame,” he said.
Smith, the Willsboro resident, was concerned about possible harmful effects on water.
“What measures are taken to prevent spillage?” she asked. “What chemicals are used? How do you protect migrating birds? How often are these [seepage pits] inspected?”
Stevens said chemicals are used on-site for water treatment. “You might see dust particles that result in turbidity,” she said.
Glackin said NYCO engages in daily visual inspection of on-site ponds and the water is tested monthly.
Willsboro resident Debbie James said NYCO provided for her and her family.
“We fed our family on hearing that droning noise,” she said. “NYCO provided great health insurance and a healthy life. They provided jobs to kids who would otherwise be on the public system. They’re near and dear to my heart. This is real life for these families.”
Stevens said NYCO staffers earned an average of $53,000 per year, about double the median salary in Essex County.
An impact study provided by NYCO states the mining company has an official payroll of $6 million. For each of its 102 employees, an additional 18.2 indirect and 26.4 induced jobs are created. The increased housing value associated with NYCO’s employment, the report stated, generates $568,000 in property taxes to Essex County, $223,000 in school taxes and $2,670,463 in state and local tax revenue in 2011.
“The property tax is a good chunk of change,” said Jeff Pierce, a local resident who identified himself as a third-generation business owner who enjoys spending time in the woods. “If you take these salaries out of the community, you’re taking the grocery stores off the corner.”
Citing the area’s demographic decline, North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas called NYCO a “high quality employer” that would be valued anywhere.
“What is a challenge in other rural areas is a crisis in the Adirondacks,” he said. “The only solution is jobs. We must help [NYCO] survive and thrive into the future. Let’s approve these reasonable and well-justified permits.”
Dan Richards, a representative of Avery Tractors, highlighted the importance of keeping jobs in the area.
”NYCO’s hundred-plus jobs result in three or four more spin-offs,” he said. “That’s huge for the area,” he said.
“This town used to be booming,” said Richard Way, a contractor, citing the time before the Northway. “New York is now an anti-business state. There’s nothing here. I told my kids to get out. What’s the alternative? We have to make hard choices — a decent economy or just the place you want to go for retirement?”
ON THE ROAD
In on-site conversations with the Valley News, residents of Wells Hill Road and Seventy Road appeared to be resigned to the traffic and were wary of speaking publicly about their concerns, including the perceived noise, possible new road construction and what one referred to as murky tap water.
Another pointed out that the stream in their yard had slowed down over the years.
On Thursday, the day after the hearing, Glackin said employees discovered evidence of mischief at the facility on Seventy Hill Road, including loosened gas caps on some of the company-owned vehicles. An increased security detail was installed to safeguard the facility over the holiday weekend.
Glackin hedged on if the incident indicated sabotage:
“It raised the concern that we’re not doing enough to safeguard our property,” he said.
The public has until July 16 to contact the APA with their comments.