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Chuck Clusen’s Blog

Vote No on Proposition 5 in New York

Chuck Clusen

Posted October 24, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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On the ballots of voters across New York State this November, in addition to whatever local contests there are in your community, will be several proposed amendments to the New York State constitution.  Many voters often overlook such proposals, which usually appear at the bottom of the ballot.  But several of this year’s constitutional amendments could have significant impacts on the state’s environmental quality and its natural resources. 

Propositions 4 and 5 deal specifically with the state’s Adirondack Park – which along with Yellowstone National Park are America’s first protected wilderness areas. In this blog and in a companion blog, I discuss why NRDC is supporting Proposition 4 and opposing Proposition 5.

Proposition 5 seeks to transfer 200 acres of “forever wild” Forest Preserve lands in the Jay Mountain Wilderness, in the highlands of the Town of Lewis in northern Essex County, to NYCO Minerals, Inc., a mining company that operates a 250-acre mine bordering the Forest Preserve.

Proposition 5 is a raw deal for the people of the State of New York and our Constitutionally protected “forever wild” Forest Preserve.

There are four reasons to vote no on Proposition 5, which seeks to amend the State Constitution to remove 200 acres of "forever wild" Forest Preserve lands in the Jay Mountain Wilderness area in eastern Essex County in the Adirondack Park. These lands would be exchanged with a mining company, which would clear and incorporate them into a large open pit mine.

In opposition to Proposition 5 is Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild, the Sierra Club, and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation, among others. Click here for more information to access a website opposed to Proposition 5. Click here and take a tour of the dynamic rich old growth forest that will be destroyed in Proposition 5 passes.

There are four big problems with Proposition 5: 1) bad precedent (see Vote No fact sheet 1); 2) uncertainty and problems with what the legislation authorizes (see Vote No fact sheet 4); 3) NYCO has already planned for and secured a second mine (see Vote No fact sheet 2; and 4) Forest Preserve lands to be swapped with NYCO contain high acreages of old growth (see Vote No fact sheet 3).

See an excellent editorial in the Lake George Mirror that makes the case for a no vote. See a terrific op-ed in the Adirondack Almanack by a noted Forest Preserve writer who supports a no vote on Proposition 5.

First, the 200 acres of Forest Preserve lands to be given to the mining company contain 150-200 year old growth forests dominated by large trees. These 200 acres came into the Forest Preserve in the 1890s and New Yorkers have paid property taxes on these lands every year since. These lands had been partially logged before then, but during the past 120 years these lands have grown into a dynamic old growth forest dominated by trees over 100 feet tall, vernal pools and wildlife habitat.

By contrast lands to be given to the state are heavily cut over forest lands. Such a land exchange is a 150-year step backwards for the Forest Preserve.

Click here to meet the forest that will be destroyed if Proposition 5 is passed.

Second, this proposal sets a terrible precedent because it would be the first time that Forest Preserve lands were swapped for a private commercial benefit. Other Forest Preserve Constitutional Amendments, for example, were for municipal purposes such as protecting public water supplies, power lines, cemeteries or making airports safer.

First and foremost, the Forest Preserve exists for natural resource protection. To exchange Forest Preserve lands purely for economic purposes makes a mockery of “forever wild.” Proposition 5 also opens a Pandora’s Box because it lowers the bar for Forest Preserve Constitutional Amendments, basically putting the Forest Preserve up for sale. We should not be playing “lets make a deal” with “forever wild.”

Third, the mining company that’s looking to buy these Forest Preserve lands has sought and received numerous state permits for a second mine one mile away. The state has bent over backwards to give this company a series of permits for a second mine, which has at least a 25-year supply of ore. The company’s reports to state regulators even reported that the ore to be mined was a higher quality at the second mine than its current mine.

Expansion of its mine into the Forest Preserve simply allows them to delay reclamation and to continue to lease out its second mine for purposes that it was not originally permitted for.

Fourth, there is no legislation that details the land swap process. Another Constitutional Amendment, Proposition 4, on this year’s ballot included passage of enabling legislation that detailed the land exchange process. There was no similar enabling legislation for Proposition 5. Any talk about 1,500 acres of replacement lands is mere hype. There are no contracts or options for these lands and no legislation that authorizes the details of this exchange.

The 2.5 million acres in the Forest Preserve already provide an enormous economic benefit the area. All New Yorkers are taxpayers in the Adirondack Park, paying over $65 million annually. Tens of thousands of tourism jobs are supported by the Forest Preserve. We don’t need to start selling off pieces of the Forest Preserve to somehow justify its economic benefits.

Proposition 5 is a great deal for a private mining company that wants to buy a piece of the “forever wild” Forest Preserve, but a raw deal for the Forest Preserve. If this Constitutional Amendment goes through and is approved by the voters it means that there is no place in New York beyond the reach of commerce. It means that there is no place beyond the desires of various corporations and their political bidders. It means that there is no place that is truly forever wild.

Vote No on Proposition 5.

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Comments

Charles CarverOct 27 2013 10:57 AM

It is mind boggling to consider that an amendment that would so seriously breach the public trust in the principle of "Forever Wild" and undermine the intergrity of said principle long enshrined in law would even be presented to the citizenry for review especially when it serves no public good and indeed only serves corporate self interest. It is a brazen assault on the spirit of preservation and reflects how little regard the corporate world holds for the good of the community. Most certainly say NO!

Nancy GrosselfingerOct 27 2013 04:02 PM

Unfortunately Mr. Clusen has not applied the same standard of analysis to Proposition #4, also about a proposed land swap with private parties. Why should voters approve the surrender of 1,000 acres for a mere $600,000 in 'administrative fees'? How much of 'net benefit' to the Forest Preserve can so little money purchase? And how many more contested landowners inside the Park now seek a similar resolution of the land dispute rather than going to court?
If you agree with Mr. Clusen's analysis of Prop 5 then please apply it to Prop 4 and vote no for Prop 4 too.

Dorothy MayOct 31 2013 06:16 PM

The lands involved in Proposition 4 have never been “State Lands.” They were owned and occupied by private parties prior to the State’s purchase of large tracts of land through tax sales. Those tax sales were ruled illegal by the Court of Appeals in 1924. There is no “land swap.” The Implementing Legislation requires that lands to be placed in the Forest Preserve must be a “net benefit” with no cost to the taxpayers. Whatever land comes into the Forest Preserve as a result of this amendment must meet that standard. The amount of money the owners are paying is immaterial.
Secondly, the title problems in Township 40 are unique and therefore there isn’t going to be a run on Constitutional Amendments to clear issues of title in NYS.

Bob DillonNov 2 2013 10:17 AM

For anyone who truly understands all sides of the issue on Prop 5, you would also understand why it is important for it to pass. The history of the creation of the park made sense in 1892 but if you look carefully at what happened to the private sector within the park since, particularly after the creation of the APA, it has become an economic disaster that is getting worse. A recent study presented in Lake George a few months ago show the long term trend getting worse, not better, if something isn't done to help rebuild the economy there. And in case you haven't looked, much of the employment within the Blue Line is funded by NYS. Prisons, SUNY schools, Psych Centers, etc. Those are losing funding and some are being closed. Yet no new ways to build local economies are happening. Ask a local in some of the rural summer resorts like Tupper or Long Lake what's happening to their communities and you will find out why Prop 5 is a reasonable compromise. And yes, COMPROMISE, because if it's all or nothing, then it's nothing for the future of the people who live in the park, not just the uber rich tree huggers who have summer properties there.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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