ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two Adirondack land swaps are being proposed to voters in November: one to let a mining company temporarily expand onto 200 acres of state-owned land and another to settle a century-old property title dispute.
The mine proposal has strong support locally, where the company employs about 100 people, but it has split environmental groups. The title dispute measure, which involves 216 private and public landowners in the hamlet of Raquette Lake in Hamilton County, has broad support.
Both issues must go to voters statewide because they require amendments to the constitution, which protects state-owned Forest Preserve land in the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park.
Proposition 5 would let NYCO Minerals Inc. expand its pit mine in the Essex County town of Lewis into a 200-acre tract of adjacent state forest land to follow a vein of wollastonite, a crystalline white mineral used in ceramics and paints and as a safe substitute for asbestos.
In exchange for the ore, the company would give the state 1,500 acres of forest land elsewhere. It would also return the 200 acres to the state after the ore was depleted, the mine filled in and the land replanted in about 10 years.
Labor unions, Essex County supervisors, the State Association of Counties and numerous other Adirondack governmental entities have endorsed the mine land swap. Several environmental groups say it would preserve about 100 jobs and provide new access to mountain peaks and trout streams.
Others, including the Sierra Club, Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks, object to amending the constitution to benefit a private company.
Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, said the 1,500 acres NYCO would give the state include two trout streams and new access to Jay Mountain, where a long, rocky ridgeline provides spectacular views of the Adirondack High Peaks, Lake Champlain and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
The Adirondack Council, the park's largest conservation group, said the proposition meets or exceeds the council's principles for judging the merits of land exchanges. Under those criteria, the land swap must achieve a significant improvement to the Forest Preserve and affected communities.
But Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said the deal would open the door to other companies that want to benefit from land swaps. And he said the Willsboro-based NYCO Minerals, the largest employer in the economically depressed region, doesn't need the land swap to survive because it already has permits for another mine nearby.
Adirondack Wild's Dan Plumley said the 200 acres is rare old-growth forest with rich wildlife habitat. He said it "insults our wilderness legacy" to allow such a forest to be mined after protecting it for 120 years.
NYCO spokesman John Brodt said the state's analysis found the land wasn't old-growth forest. The Adirondack Council said surveys found "no significant biological, environmental, wildlife or recreational resources" on the 200 acres, and the 1,500 acres NYCO would provide to the state in return was worth far more ecologically and recreationally.
The other referendum, Proposition 4, would settle conflicting land-title claims dating back to the 1800s, when inadequate surveying, poor record keeping, clerical errors and mistakes by assessors and tax collectors left the state with nominal title to 216 lots covering about 1,000 acres in a 24,000-acre region known as Township 40. As a result, the lots were included as part of the Forest Preserve, leaving property homeowners without clear title. The parcels include private homes, businesses, a school, firehouse, waste transfer station and marina.
In exchange for giving up its claim to the disputed parcels, the state would get undeveloped land elsewhere. The landowners would pay fees to be used for the new land acquisition.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has recommended that the state Legislature target the historic Marion River Carry for acquisition in exchange for the disputed parcels. The Marion River and surrounding land is part of a canoe route that connects Raquette Lake and Blue Mountain Lake in the central Adirondacks.
The proposition is supported by the Open Space Institute, Adirondack Council, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack Wild and Protect the Adirondacks.