LEWIS - NYCO Minerals continues to gain support for a controversial proposition on the statewide ballot Tuesday that would allow it to mine 200 acres of state Forest Preserve land in Essex County.
Meanwhile, opponents of the proposed constitutional amendment have added another high-profile environmental organization to their campaign.
If the proposition is approved by the voters, NYCO would be allowed to mine wollastonite on a 200-acre tract in the Jay Mountain Wilderness that's next to the company's current Lewis mine. In return, the company would give the state a minimum of $1 million in land that would be added to the Forest Preserve. Roughly 1,500 acres have already been identified. When it finishes mining, the company would have to restore the 200 acres and return it to the state.
NYCO and its supporters say the project will protect 100 jobs and related economic spin-off in Essex County while giving the state seven times the amount of Forest Preserve acreage its temporarily losing.
John Brodt, the public relations specialist NYCO hired to build support for the proposition, has been issuing regular updates to the news media listing the endorsements the proposal has received.
Over the last two weeks, NYCO's plan has gained the backing of the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Adirondack Landowners Association, the Business Council of New York State, the state Conservative Party and the New York State Snowmobile Association.
Former Gov. George Pataki, who has a second home in the town of Essex, announced his support for Proposition 5 in an Oct. 27 op-ed in the Journal News, which covers his home county, Putnam. He called it a "good deal for everyone" and a "rare opportunity to expand the Forest Preserve near Lake Placid while helping to protect 100 jobs that are extremely important to the region."
In recent days, U.S. Reps. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, and Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, have also endorsed the proposed land swap, as have a group of former top state Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation officials: Robert Flacke, John Cahill, Ross Whaley and Peter S. Paine Jr.
Two environmental groups, the Adirondack Council and the Adirondack Mountain Club, had already announced their backing for Proposition 5, along with a slew of Essex County elected officials and other groups.
A dozen newspapers across the state have also editorialized in favor of the proposition, including the Enterprise and, on Friday, the New York Times.
The charge against the proposition has been led by three environmental groups: Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild and the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club. They contend that the amendment would be the first passed solely for the private gain of a commercial company and that it contains no public value like other land swaps have had. The groups also say the 200 acres contains old-growth forest, which supporters of the proposition dispute, and that NYCO has another nearby source of wollastonite it could mine instead of the Forest Preserve.
While these groups haven't secured as many high-profile endorsements as NYCO, they recently got the backing of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York City-based nonprofit international environmental advocacy group.
Chuck Clusen, an NRDC director and former Adirondack Council executive director, urged New Yorkers to vote no on Proposition 5 in a Oct. 24 blog post on the group's website. He called the swap "a 150-year step backwards for the Forest Preserve.
"First and foremost, the Forest Preserve exists for natural resource protection," Clusen wrote. "To exchange Forest Preserve lands purely for economic purposes makes a mockery of 'forever wild.' Proposition 5 also opens a Pandora's Box because it lowers the bar for Forest Preserve constitutional amendments, basically putting the Forest Preserve up for sale. We should not be playing 'lets make a deal' with 'forever wild.'"
As of Friday, at least two newspapers had editorialized against Proposition 5: the Lake George Mirror and the Albany Times Union.