NYCO’s wollastonite test mining in Lot 8 temporary halted

By Antonio Torrisi
Published: Tuesday, 29 July 2014

US court halts NYCO’s test mining in Lot 8; environmental groups dispute legal issues

 The Albany County Supreme Court of Justice, New York, US, has stopped NYCO Minerals from starting its test mining for wollastoite in the 200-acre (0.4km2) area, also known as Lot 8 (near the town of Lewis, New York).

NYCO had received approval from the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for a land swap and temporary revocable permits (TRP). This was to conduct exploration of wollastonite resources in Lot 8 and was expected to begin in July.

Hon. Thomas Buchanan from the Supreme Court, issued the temporary restraining order following a lawsuit, known as Article 78, filed by New York-based law firm Earthjustice, which acts on behalf of four

local environmental groups - Adirondack Wild, Atlantic States Legal Foundation, Protect the Adirondacks and Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

Earthjustice disputes that the approval of the land swap by New York state - known as proposition 5 - suspends only one layer of protection for Lot 8, but other legal requirements protective of wilderness areas remain in full force.

“The narrow passage of proposition 5 may have removed the ‘forever wild’ protection from the Lot 8 in the Jay Mountain Wilderness area. However, there remain many other requirements in law that have not been amended and are fully in effect,” Samuel Sage, president of Atlantic States Legal Foundation said in a statement.

“A majority of New Yorkers and two successive, separately elected Legislatures amended the Constitution to authorise the NYCO project [in November 2013],” Lori Severino, DEC’s spokerperson, told IM.

“DEC is implementing that constitutional amendment in a manner that isÊconsistent with sound environmental policies and practices,” she added.

John Brodt, NYCO’s spokesperson, told IM that the swap earned the support of a broad array of environmental groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club and Adirondack Council, labour unions, local governments and business organisations.

According to Deborah Goldberg, lead attorney for Earthjustice, by granting a TRP to NYCO, the APA and DEC considers that the amendment “implicitly repealed” all the laws and regulations affecting Lot 8.

Legal and environmental dispute

“Our lawsuit is not trying to change the result of the proposition 5 vote. We respect the fact that proposition 5 passed,” Dan Plumley, partner at Adirondack Wild, told the news provider Press Republican.

“But [É] the state is bulldozing forward literally to implement this action without a full environmental impact statement, without recognition of rare and protected species on Lot 8, [and] without detailed inventory analysis that would be expected of any private entity looking to conduct industrial activity in the park,” he added.

Earthjustice raised strong environmental concerns about NYCO’s exploration plan in the area, although DEC has determined that exploratory drilling will have no significant adverse impacts in the area.

“The agencies claim that industrial drilling does not carry the potential adverse environmental impact, even though it will take place in a completely wild forest sheltering sensitive plants, including two protected orchid species,” Goldberg said.

David Gibson, conservation director from the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter believes that road building, tree cutting and drilling involved in mineral exploration will cause great disturbance to Lot 8, as the area is rich in older growth trees and varied wildlife habitats.

“NYCO has responsibly mined wollastonite on a privately-owned portion of the Adirondack Park for more than 60 years and the mine has become an important component of the local economy,” Brodt told IM.

“The company strives to be a good neighbour as well as an employer, he says. “We take the stewardship aspects seriously,” Mark Buckley, NYCO environmental and safety officer, said.

However, the environmentalist groups believe that there is no reason for the state to rush to judgement on Lot 8, as NYCO’s other wollastonite asset at Oak Hill, which will be ready for full-scale mining in 2016, has an estimated mine life of 25 years.

“The restraining order [by the Supreme Court] will prohibit NYCO from implementing the TRP and doing sampling until at least 22 August. That’s when we go back to court,” Plumley said.

NYCO’s plans in Adirondack

According to the terms of the TRP, mineral sampling by NYCO will require the destruction of 1,254 trees, the construction of corridors in the forest for transportation and the installation of up to 21 drilling pads, which will operate for up to eight months.

The company will carry out exploration in a quarter of Lot 8 and, if results from exploration demonstrate the feasibility of mining wollastonite, NYCO will proceed with the land swap.

Upon completion of the mining activities, NYCO would reclaim Lot 8, replant it and donate it back to the State of New York.

NYCO has also filed an additional application to the APA, for adding one hour of operation per day and truck traffic from its Seventy Road and Oak Hill mines to its processing plant and Graymont’s crushing plant in Willsboro, New York.

Lindsey Stevens from US-based geologic consulting company, H2H Associates, which is assisting NYCO with its expansion plan, told North County Public Radio that operations will re-route more than 1,000 feet (305 metres) of one of the tributaries in the region.

The Seventy Road mine hosts 600,000 tonnes wollastonite reserves, which would guarantee the wollastonite producer two additional years of mining, with added excavation zones extending operations by three years.