Two of the six amendments on Tuesday’s ballot deal with land swaps in New York’s Adirondack Park. One of the proposals has split environmental groups.
Proposition four would clear up some land disputes for owners of property on Raquette Lake, in Hamilton County. It would allow the state to give clear titles to the around 200 homes along the lake. In exchange, the landowners would contribute to a fund to buy alternative land for the Adirondack forest preserve. There is no organized opposition to that land swap.
But Proposal Number Five is more controversial.
It would allow a mining company to take over 200 acres of what are now forest preserve lands to expand it’s open pit mining operations. In exchange, NYCO Minerals has offered to give the state other lands at comparable value to add to the forest preserve. The issue has divided environmental groups.
"We don’t think the swap is a good deal," said Peter Bauer, with the group Protect the Adirondacks. “It sets a terrible precedent.”
Bauer says in the more than 100 years that the Adirondack Park has existed, it’s rare that a private company has been allowed to take this much forest preserve land and use it for industrial purposes.
Dan Plumley, with Adirondack Wild, has walked the 200 acres in question, and he says it’s an old growth forest, which is rare in a region heavily logged in the 1900’s, as well as a key animal habitat.
"We have trees on this site that are upwards of 150 to 300 years old," Plumley said, including American Beech trees, that bears gravitate to.
“This is rich black bear habitat,” he said.
Other Adirondack based environmental groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club and the Adirondack Council, support the land swap.
Willie Janeway, with the Adirondack Council, says the mining company has agreed to give up 1500 acres of land it currently owns. The new lands will open up public access to areas including the Jay and Hurricane Mountain Wilderness Areas. And, under the agreement, the mining company would eventually give the 200 acres back.
Janeway says there’s another consideration, as well. The mining company has said 100 jobs could be at stake if it can’t expand its mining on the 200 acre parcel. He says his group, while advocating for the preservation of the Adirondack Park, also tries to take into account the economic welfare of the people who live there.
“The focus on this amendments is really the benefit if provides to the people of the state of New York.” Janeway said. “And the benefits to communities, including the jobs.”
The state’s environmental conservation commissioner, Joe Martens, is also in favor of the mining company land swap. He spoke to North Country Public Radio earlier this year, saying the 1500 acres would be a great gain.
“They are far superior to the 200 acres that NYCO would get,” Martens said. “They have about six miles of trout streams and significant water bodies on them.”
Martens’ boss, Governor Andrew Cuomo, has remained officially neutral on the Adirondack ballot amendments.
Former Governor George Pataki, who has a home in the park, has written an Op Ed piece backing both land swap proposals.
Voters in the rest of New York may be wondering why they are being asked to weigh in on what seems to be local land disputes. Bauer, with Protect the Adirondacks, says the state’s constitution is set up so that all New York residents are the stewards of the park.
“If you live in Binghamton or if you live in Yonkers, you own 3 million acres of forest preserve lands in the Adirondacks and Catskills,” Bauer said. “You pay taxes on those lands.”
Janeway, with the Adirondack Council, says he believes New York voters, as they have in the past, will do their homework and learn about the amendments, and take that responsibility seriously.