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Advocate leaves out the best part

October 17, 2014
Editorial , Lake Placid News

An op-ed in the Oct. 7 New York Times highlighted an enduring movement to stop a land swap in the Adirondacks between the state and NYCO Minerals, which wants to expand its mining for wollastonite. While we support the land swap, we respect the opinions of those who don't - but not efforts to deceive people.

Edward Zahniser is on the advisory board of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, which along with some other green groups (not the Park's biggest ones) is suing the state for permitting NYCO's exploratory drilling on the land in question. His essay in the Times is titled "An Adirondack Wilderness Imperiled." and he opens by recalling 1985, a year when another Governor Cuomo, Mario, set aside the Jay Mountain Wilderness. That same year, Zahniser reminds us, Mario Cuomo also said these words: "The wilderness areas of this state are not a disposable resource, to be consumed and discarded. They must be preserved. Forever."

"How did we get from wilderness forever to an open pit mine?" the author asks rhetorically.

In explaining how, he misleads readers by leaving out essential information - primarily, what the state would get in return for the 200 acres of Jay Mountain Wilderness it would give NYCO.

All he says is that NYCO would give the state lands that "are equal to or greater than the value" of the 200 acres, quoting the ballot resolution that New York voters passed last November.

One thousand five hundred acres - that's what he should have said. That's about how much property NYCO has agreed to give the state in exchange, to be added to the "forever wild" Adirondack Forest Preserve. Then, after mining the 200 acres, NYCO must restore the land as much as possible and give it back to the state Forest Preserve - granted, not in the same condition as before, but 1,500 additional acres more than compensate for that.

The state is getting more than seven-and-a-half times the acreage it's giving. If New York Times readers knew that, they might not have made comments like this on Zahniser's essay: "I am, quite frankly, ashamed of myself. I voted yes to this provision. If I had known the land in question would violate the 'forever wild' part of our state constitution in the Adirondack Forest Preserve I would never, ever have voted for it."

Even if readers of the piece were inclined to disagree with Zahniser, he gave them insufficient information with which to do so. One land swap defender mistakenly posted, "The 200 acres is being replaced by 200 acres elsewhere." Try 1,500.

Pulling back from acreage counts to a big-picture view, Zahniser emphasizes that "Wilderness should be preserved, forever" but neglects to mention that the state Constitution which protects the Forest Preserve isn't forever. It includes a legal process by which anything in it may be changed: Two separately elected state legislatures must approve the amendment, and then voters statewide in an Election Day referendum. It's an arduous process, but in the Adirondacks - an area bigger than Vermont in which the state owns almost half the land - it's been braved many times for minor Adirondack state land swaps like this one, to provide residents with things like private electric power lines, municipal wells and town cemetery space.

That process was followed to the T in this case. Fifty-three percent of the state's voters agreed to let this land swap happen - not a huge majority but a legally binding stamp of approval. If state officials tried to block the process henceforth, as plaintiffs want, they would be defying the will of the people.

"I think, given the vote of the public, this is what the public anticipated would happen," Adirondack Park Agency Commissioner Richard Booth, the state agency board's strongest voice for environmental protection, said as he voted for the drilling permits in June.

To act as if the will of the people doesn't count for much, and to try to sway readers to oppose a deal without telling them the upside of it is just wrong. Most readers of Zahniser's piece know nothing about the Jay Mountain Wilderness, just as they know nothing of wollastonite - a mineral used in plastics and paints, and an essential part of every person's automobile. If it isn't mined here, it will be mined in China or India, where environmental protections certainly don't require mines to make 7.5-to-1 swaps to expand wilderness areas. That's happening here in the Adirondacks, and it's a pretty good deal all around.



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