A wall of Wollastonite, the gray colored exposed mineral, can be seen immediately adjacent to state owned Lot 8.
Essex County’s second largest private employer, NYCO Minerals, has a plan to ensure another 10 years worth of mining at their Lewis mine, but it will require a land swap with the state.
NYCO is bordered by state land. A small parcel of that land, a land-locked 200 acres known simply as Lot 8, holds enough Wollastonite to keep the mine operational another 10 years, NYCO officials believe.
But because it’s in the Adirondack Park, that state land falls under the state’s, “Forever Wild,” provision. A change in the state’s constitution would be required to approve a land swap.
In exchange for those 200 acres, NYCO is offering the state 1,500 of their property. The property they are offering has considerable road frontage, and is currently acting as a buffer, preventing hikers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts access to the massive Jay Mountain wilderness to the east and west. The NYCO parcels, along with road frontage, have streams stocked with brook trout and the occasional salmon is caught in one of the streams.
Only a positive vote by two consecutive state legislatures, and a yes vote on a state-wide ballot, can allow the land to transfer to private hands. NYCO has already gotten those positive votes from the legislature, in 2012 and 2013, and the measure will now come up to a state-wide vote.
“The 200 acres was a parcel of property that the state got for back taxes,” said Theresa Sayward, retired New York State Assemblywoman. “The state is not giving up something that was purchased for environmental reasons.”
Sayward has long been a proponent of the land swap.
An exposed vein of Wollastonite can be seen commanding the exposed rock face just 25 feet from Lot 8. In some places there are only about 10 feet of “over-story,” or material that would need to be removed in order to begin mining.
As part of the deal, when NYCO has mined all the Wollastonite from the 200 acres, they will “reclaim” the land, filling it in and placing topsoil, then seeding the ground. They will then turn the 200 acres back over to the state, along with the 1,500 from the land swap.
Several acres of land on the NYCO mine land have already been reclaimed and are indistinguishable from the untouched land around it.
“The time to do it, if we want to have access to Lot 8, is now,” said Mark Buckley, Environmental Health and Safety Officer with NYCO. “There may be a million tons there.”
Buckley said that while the pit they are currently mining holds about 10 years of reserves, their buyers like to see 20 years worth of reserves in order to consider a mine viable. Without the extra 10 years of reserves, NYCO could face problems in years to come finding buyers for their product.
NYCO is mounting a media campaign in order to get their message out to the voters. The measure, which will be on the ballot as Proposition 5, will be voted on in the upcoming elections on Nov 5.
Along with bipartisan support in the state legislature for two consecutive years, numerous other agencies have come out in favor of the land swap.
In a press release, William Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council said, “The proposed land swap now exceeds our standard for supporting Constitutional Amendments involving the Forever Wild clause.”
According to the Council, the 1,500 acres the state would receive comprise better habitat for fish and wildlife, three miles of streams and has considerably more ecological value than the 200 acres which would be given up.
The measure is also being supported by the United Steelworkers, the AFL-CIO, the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, and local and state politicians including Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
NYCO employs more than 100 people in their mining operations. In several instances employees have been working in the mines for generations.
Wollastonite is used in paint, plastics used in the automobile industry, brake pads and linings, ceramics, construction materials and many more applications. There are only two Wollastonite mines currently operating in the United States.