Temporary Restraining Order Halts Adirondack Land Swap Mining Tests
A New York state judge has issued a temporary restraining order forcing NYCO Mineral Company to delay test drilling on Adirondack Forest Preserve land.
Voters in November approved a constitutional amendment that allows NYCO Minerals to expand its Essex County wollastonite mine onto 200 acres of state-owned land. In exchange, New York would add 1,500 acres to the forest preserve. The company had planned to do test drilling on the 200 acres known as Lot 8 beginning Thursday.
Four environmental groups sued to block the mineral sampling, saying the lot is still legally under Forest Preserve protection. State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan granted a temporary restraining order Tuesday against NYCO until mid-August, when arguments from both sides will be presented. Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg acknowledges that the land is not forever wild, but does fall under other state classifications. “DEC itself has admitted that this is still Forest Preserve land. And all we are saying is you have to abide by the laws that still apply to the Forest Preserve. The constitutional protection is gone. But the statutory and regulatory provisions were not lifted by the constitutional amendment.”
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks are the other groups challenging the legality of drilling on Lot 8. Adirondack Wild Partner Dave Gibson says the constitutional amendment was about a land exchange. “The voters did not approve of rescinding all other non-constitutional laws. But the state is interpreting their vote as rescinding all other environmental laws. That includes the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, the state Environmental Quality Review Act and their own regulations. The state is creating a legal vacuum. They are saying in essence we know which laws we should obey and which laws we shouldn’t. That’s arbitrary. They need to have a legal standard by which to give NYCO a permit to drill in wilderness. And that’s the point we’re making in this lawsuit and in this restraining order.”
NYCO Minerals spokesman John Brodt declined to comment due to the pending litigation. DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis emailed the agency’s statement which reads: “A majority of New Yorkers and two successive, separately elected Legislatures amended the Constitution to authorize the NYCO project. DEC is implementing that constitutional amendment in a manner that is consistent with sound environmental policies and practices. Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club supports the constitutional amendment and subsequent land swap. Mountain Club Executive Director Neil Woodworth says DEC has the discretion to permit the drilling, but it must be done in strict accordance with existing laws. “Most constitutional amendments are accompanied with enabling legislation. But there was no enabling legislation done in this instance that would have spelled out which laws applied in what way to the execution of the mineral sampling. And if enabling legislation had been done, there wouldn’t have been a lawsuit, in my opinion. We still support the land swap. Our position will continue to be that we expect the land swap and all of its provisions should be implemented strictly in accordance with all of the applicable law and not just with the constitutional provision.”
NYCO, based in the Town of Lewis, is one of the largest employers in Essex County. Supervisor David Blades expects the company to retain current jobs and prevail in the lawsuit. “They’re still going to provide the employment. What I see is that small environmental groups have been able to stymie what the people of New York State said was okay. It’s forested land. I can understand why maybe some environmental groups are concerned. But the people of New York State are getting 1,500 acres for a few acres. Do the math.”
Arguments are scheduled for August 22nd in NYS Supreme Court. At that time the judge will decide whether to grant a preliminary injunction in the case.