NYCO Minerals spent more than half a million dollars to win support for a controversial land swap with the state that voters approved Tuesday in a statewide referendum.
Meanwhile, Adirondack environmental groups continue to butt heads over the implications of Proposition 5, with some describing approval of the constitutional amendment as a "victory for the Park and its communities," and others calling it a "deep injury to 'forever wild.'"
Although approval of the proposition will eventually give NYCO the right to mine what is now a 200-acre tract of state Forest Preserve land, it could be at least a year-and-a-half, if not longer, before the company can move forward with its plan due to permitting requirements and other necessary approvals.
This wall of rock, seen in June, marks the edge of NYCO Minerals’ Lewis mine, looking toward a 200-acre parcel of the state-owned Jay Mountain Wilderness where the company wants to extract wollastonite.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
NYCO spent a total of $538,961 on what it called the "Vote Yes for the Adirondacks" campaign, according to financial disclosure statements it filed with the state Board of Elections in the months and days leading up to Tuesday's vote.
The Willsboro-based company's 32-day pre-election statement shows it spent $173,854 from June 12 to Sept. 20. All the money went to Albany-based Behan Communications, which coordinated the media and advertising effort in support of the land swap. Behan's expenses, according to the filings, included producing videos, creating and updating a website and a Facebook page, and interviews with news media around the state about the proposition.
A second, 11-day pre-election filing shows the company made a one-time $250,740 payment to Behan Communications on Oct. 17 to pay for television advertising, radio spots and online newspaper ads. NYCO also had to file three other notices with the Board of Elections for contributions it made in excess of $1,000 between the previous filing's cut-off date and Election Day. Those three contributions totaled $114,367.
John Brodt of Behan Communications, who's served as NYCO's spokesman throughout the campaign, said the amount of money the company spent on pushing for the proposition shows how important the 200 acres, known as Lot 8, is to the company.
"The acquisition of Lot 8 means a minimum of eight to 10 years of additional wollastonite supply and operations in the Adirondacks," he said. "That's significant. Some of the opponents leading up to the vote continually claimed NYCO did not need Lot 8. The fact that NYCO was willing to invest the type of dollars they did, and the time over the last two years, shows how important this was to their long-term future in the Adirondacks."
Critics argued NYCO doesn't need the Forest Preserve land to stay in business because it has a second source of wollastonite nearby, at a site known as Oak Hill. The company has argued that Oak Hill would be more expensive to mine because it has a large overburden of sand and rock that would have to be removed first. If that's the case, then why couldn't NYCO invest the half of million dollars it ultimately spent on its Proposition 5 campaign in developing the Oak Hill site? And how much would developing that site cost?
In response to those questions, Brodt said he couldn't share figures on what it would cost NYCO to mine at Oak Hill "for competitive reasons." He repeated that it just made more sense for the company to access the wollastonite on Lot 8 since its current mining operations and equipment are already located on the neighboring property.
Asked for specifics on how Behan Communications spent the money it was paid, Brodt said a large percentage was used for advertising in the New York City metropolitan area, including online advertising with The New York Times, Newsday and www.lohud.com (website of suburban newspaper the Journal News), radio spots on WCBS and WINS, and some cable television advertising.
"That being said, by New York City standards, it was a modest advertising program, but it was very well targeted at geographic areas and demographic groups we believed would be in support of this proposal," Brodt said.
Did that targeted campaign work? Yes, although the results were actually much closer in the New York City area, where NYCO spent a lot of money, than they were upstate.
The Board of Elections' website has a county-by-county breakdown of voting results on each of this year's ballot propositions. The data shows Proposition 5 only carried the nine counties that make up the greater New York City area, including both counties on Long Island, by about 22,000 votes, or a margin of 51 percent to 49 percent. A total of 598,709 people in those counties were in favor of Proposition 5 while 576,617 were against it.
Outside of the greater New York City area - call it upstate - the proposition passed by a wider margin. A total of 606,286 upstate voters supported the proposition while 490,125 were against it. That works out to roughly 55 percent of upstate voters in favor of the land swap with 45 percent opposed.
The results of Tuesday's vote on Proposition 5 were applauded by the Park's largest environmental group, the Adirondack Council, which had aligned with the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), NYCO and a coalition of business groups, unions and elected officials to push for its approval.
In a statement issued late Tuesday night, Adirondack Council Executive Director Willie Janeway said the voters who supported the NYCO land swap and another Adirondack proposition on the ballot "share our vision of an Adirondack Park that works best when its wild character is protected and its small towns and hamlets are vibrant and alive."
Before Tuesday's vote, some of the environmentalists who opposed Proposition 5 seemed somewhat gun-shy when asked about the Council's and ADK's support of it.
"We certainly don't dictate positions to other groups," Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks told the Enterprise in early October. "Other groups can take the positions they want."
Since the vote, however, Bauer hasn't shied away from going after the Council and ADK. In a Thursday commentary on the Adirondack Almanack website, Bauer chastised the two groups for "crowing loudly" about the approval of Proposition 5, saying those who are celebrating will "come to rue this day."
Specifically, Bauer cites a message the Council sent to its members after the vote, in which it touted approval of the two propositions as "wins for the people's Adirondack Park, for wilderness and communities" that "showcase the success of a new way of doing Adirondack conservation - the Adirondack Council way."
Bauer contends that a claim for that kind of new political alignment in the Park is flimsy, given the narrow margin of passage for Proposition 5.
"In the larger context of a vision for the Adirondack Park, this is clearly a split decision," Bauer wrote. "Any talk by ADK or the Adirondack Council of an endorsement of their vision for the Adirondacks by New Yorkers should be qualified that only 53 percent of New Yorkers endorse that vision."
Bauer wrote that the two biggest factors leading to the land swap's approval were voter turnout efforts led by the unions that backed Proposition 5 and the well-funded media campaign led by the Behan firm.
"We're disheartened by the passage of Proposition 5, which we feel is a terrible precedent for 'forever wild,'" Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, told the Enterprise Wednesday. "However, the turnout for the vote tells us well over 1 million people stood with us on principle, and that principle is that 'forever wild' means what it says."
Proposition 5 authorized a land swap that adds at least $1 million worth of other Forest Preserve acreage to the Park in exchange for the 200 acres, which NYCO will have to return to the state. Working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, NYCO has identified 1,500 acres of forests, mountain slopes and streams it would give to the state.
Brodt said it could be up to 18 months before NYCO could begin mining operations on Lot 8. The first step in the process, Brodt said, is for the company to conduct exploratory drilling to determine how much wollastonite is in the ground.
"Once the exploratory drilling takes place, then we move into the valuation stage where independent appraisals will be done of the mineral value on Lot 8," Brodt said. "Independent appraisals will also be done to confirm the values of the properties that will be going into the Forest Preserve. Those valuations will require approval by the state comptroller's office."
The company will also need to get mining permits from DEC and the state Adirondack Park Agency. APA lead attorney James Townsend is scheduled to deliver a report on the agency's role following the passage of both Adirondack propositions at Thursday's agency meeting.
The environmental groups that opposed Proposition 5 say they'll be closely watching the process as it moves forward. Adirondack Wild said deeds for the properties can't be exchanged until the state Legislature passes implementing legislation.
"There is a long way to go before NYCO can begin to mine in the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area, and we will be watch-dogging state agencies, the state Legislature and NYCO to ensure the appraisal and valuation, the land exchange and other steps are taken properly and in full public view," the group said in a press release.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.