Larry Deso can't imagine working anywhere but NYCO Minerals. "I've been here 40 years -- if I didn't like it, I wouldn't be here," he said.
NYCO is the largest corporation In Lewis, New York, employing 105 people in Essex County. The company produces Wollastonite -- used for many products including plastics, paints and ceramics. But after 30 years of digging at this site, the Wollastonite supply is thinning and the company wants to dig at a new site. "At the very most, we have two years under our present permit and we have a final permit that the state is reviewing right now that will give us three years at most," said the company's Mark Buckley.
NYCO discovered the land directly next to its current site is estimated to have about 1 million tons of Wollastonite, which can extend the company's existence another 8 to 10 years. "In the mining industry, customers like to know their supply is gonna be a consistent quality over a number of years, so when you get under the 20 year mark, customers start looking for other people to supply them," Buckley said.
The 200-acres of land -- known as Lot 8 -- is state forest-preserved land. "It's important we do it now because we have the infrastructure here. We have the crusher here -- truck shop, roads. We have the infrastructure to mine that now," Buckley said.
In return, NYCO is offering New York State 1,500 acres of what they call 'prime recreational land' to be added to the Forest Preserve -- open to the pubic at no cost to taxpayers. And once NYCO finishes mining the area, officials say they will patch it up and return the land to the state.
"I know a lot of people, when they hear the word mining they get a little bit worried about it. But they've gotta understand this is creating a much larger forest preserve for public use," said David Blades, Lewis' Town Supervisor.
Since the swap involves 'Forever-Wild' state Forest Preserve land, an amendment is required to Article 14 of the New York State Constitution. The New York State Legislature voted in favor of the swap in each of the last two legislative sessions. Now state voters will get to give the plan a thumbs up, or a thumbs down.
"I can't believe we'd allow that to happen," said Dan Plumley with the group Adirondack Wild. Plumley is among those hoping to convince voters to say 'no' to the deal. "If aspects of it become of interest to international mining conglomerates, like this case, then pieces of the forest preserve get removed because of their mineral value. Forever Wild doesn't mean forever anymore," Plumley said.
Plumley has supported land swaps in the past but says this deal is inappropriate. He says if the preserve is used for mining, the natural species may never come back. And if they do, it won't be for centuries. "This is not just regular woods, it's an extremely rich site -- old growth hardwood forest. It's the exact kind of site -- ecologically -- we'd want to protect at all costs to stay in the forest preserve," he said.
NYCO officials say if the deal passes, they expect to start digging in about two years. They say they plan to mine 50 of the 200 acres.
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