WILLSBORO -- The constitutional amendment that could salvage dozens of mining jobs breezed through the state Senate Tuesday, the same day the leading Assembly Democrat on environmental issues agreed to carry it through the lower house.
The proposed constitutional amendment would allow NYCO Minerals access to wollastonite veins beneath 200 acres of the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area in exchange for about 1,500 acres that would be added to the Forest Preserve. It passed the state Senate by a 59-3 vote.
“NYCO’s continued success is vitally important to our North Country economy and to those who depend on it for their livelihoods,” said state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, the bill’s Senate sponsor.
Tuesday’s passage is the amendment’s second time through the Senate in the last two years. A second Assembly passage before the June 20 end of the legislative session would send the issue to voters statewide in November for final approval.
NYCO’s mine is drying up, company officials have said. Access to the Forest Preserve could extend the mine’s life by at least a decade, potentially saving up to 100 jobs in the industry-poor Adirondack Park.
The viability of the NYCO amendment has been in doubt in recent weeks after Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Robert Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, said he wouldn’t carry the legislation if it arrived on his desk with only moments to spare before the Legislature gaveled out for the year.
Sweeney, after meeting with a collection of environmental groups Tuesday morning, said he agreed to carry the bill in the Assembly and will introduce it Wednesday in the Environmental Conservation Committee.
“It doesn’t mean that it will happen, but it does mean there’s a good chance it will,” Sweeney said.
The NYCO Amendment, along with the Township 40 amendment that would end a century-old land dispute in Raquette Lake, could have died without Sweeney’s sponsorship because of a 50 year-old legal opinion that requires proposed amendments to pass the Legislature in consecutive years.
Sweeney’s backing followed support from the Adirondack Council, which became the second environmental group to argue the NYCO land-swap could benefit both the environment and economy.
“This is a victory for wilderness. State officials have now applied the Adirondack Council’s principles to the details of the proposed exchange,” said Willy Janeway, the organization’s executive director.
The Adirondack Council had withheld support until it was convinced the state was using an “acceptable” threshold to judge the land that would be added to the Forest Preserve.
One green group, Protect the Adirondacks, opposes the amendment, arguing that giving private industry access to the state’s “forever wild” lands is a bad precedent.
Sweeney said he decided to sponsor the bill for its second trip through the Assembly because the decision on the appropriateness of mining on the Forest Preserve should be made by the voting public.
“Trying to weigh what the proper balance is was a little tough,” Sweeney said. “There will be those out there who will be vigorously trying to convince the public to not support it. It’s a discussion we should be having.”
The NYCO amendment has been navigated this session by Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, who inherited the bill from his predecessor, Teresa Sayward. Sayward spent years trying to find a solution that could garner widespread support among the various Adirondack factions.