LEWIS — Two points rose repeatedly in comments at a hearing this week on proposed expansion at NYCO mines.
Residents support the continuation of mining for wollastonite in the Town of Lewis and the valuable economic benefits.
But they are somewhat concerned about how expansion in three mining zones, each taken separately, will impact overall truck traffic, quality of life and the environment.
Aside from proposed test mining on Lot 8, NYCO wants to increase hours of operation a half hour on each side of the day and add truck traffic from its 70 Road and Oak Hill mines to both Graymont crushing on Route 9 and to its Willsboro plant.
The new permit application doesn’t have anything to do with the constitutionally approved land swap and temporary mining permits for Lot 8, which is state land.
Two years worth of ore are left at the 70 Road mine, with about 600,000 tons of reserves in a section just south of the current mine where NYCO wants to expand.
Added excavation zones there would extend the 70 Road mine operation by three years.
A civil and open dialogue characterized the informational session held at the Lewis Volunteer Fire Department station.
STARVING FOR JOBS
NYCO’s spokeswoman Lindsay Stevens said the Lewis operation is one of only three wollastonite sites in the United States.
The average salary of NYCO employees is $53,000 per year, she said, about 50 percent higher than the median salary in Essex County.
“The (Adirondack) park is starving for good jobs,” Dan Richards stood and told the Adirondack Park Agency and NYCO officials at the hearing.
Richards is a truck operator with Abele Tractor and works for NYCO.
“These people (NYCO) are environmentally conscious. These jobs provide three to four jobs for other people. It’s not just about somebody wanting to make a profit.”
But John Knox, who owns a home near the mines with his wife, Karen Merrihew, said NYCO has already paid to fix his chimney a couple times. Their home is within 150 yards of the 70 Road mine.
“They talk about blast schedules — I’ve never seen one.
"And I’ve got a broken chimney that costs $2,500 to fix. We need to have a formal adjudicatory hearing to go over all the details," Knox said.
Neighboring resident Barbara Dansmore recalled the 1998 permit process for Oak Hill.
“They planned to move the entire operation to Oak Hill,” she said.
Shortly after the 1998 agreement, NYCO asked for expansion at 70 Road, she continued.
“Which is why we moved off Wells Hill. No one ever wanted to suffocate the business; that’s not the point,” Dansmore said.
The point is in clear communication with area residents, she said.
Several residents voiced concern about the added half-hour of operations early in the day.
They want NYCO to keep heavy truck traffic away from early school-bus pickup times on Muzzy Road, Wells Hill, Stowersville Road and Goff Road.
Asked about the bus conflict, NYCO’s Environmental Health and Safety Manager Mark Buckley said the earlier start at Oak Hill and 70 Road pits would get the big trucks out of the mining area before school buses arrive.
Representatives from the Adirondack Council, Protect the Adirondacks and Adirondack Wild all called for formal adjudicatory hearing on revisions to NYCO permits.
“APA needs to hold adjudicatory hearings to look at the entire process (Lewis mining) in its totality,” Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said.
He also suggested NYCO assess options to put in a private road connecting Oak Hill and 70 Road.
After the meeting, Buckley said NYCO had reviewed options for a private road between mines back in the late 1990s.
But the road would have to cross sensitive wetlands, swamps and a creek.
“APA decided at the time that it was too much adverse environmental impact. We were saying it would be too expensive.”
Buckley said the three mining location permits are independently reviewed because that is how the permits are sorted through the APA and Department of Environmental Conservation regulatory process.
NOISE AND SECURITY
Bauer calculated that the increase in truckloads to 100 per day would translate into one heavy truck passing a person’s house every three minute.
But NYCO officials said that not all of the trucks would come from just one mine.
And Buckley said NYCO was producing 270 tons a year of wollastonite in 1998, and now the company is producing 170 tons a year.
“I would really like to see the agency (APA) put some contingencies on (noise and traffic) at the plant,” Willsboro resident Laura Smith suggested.
“You cannot go out and hear night sounds because of it.”
For other residents, however, the noise, din and traffic of mining represent the hum of job security and industry.
Debbie James lives near the NYCO crushing plant in Willsboro and works for the company.
“We fed our family on the droning noise,” she said.
“NYCO provides us with great health insurance. We’ve had life insurance that gave us security. This is real life for these families,” James said.
And Jeff Pierce, a third-generation small-business owner in Lewis, said no one could ask for a better maintenance record from NYCO truck haulers.
“And $53,000 is a pretty good chunk of change. They pay their bills.
"And I love the environment,” Pierce added.
“I spend as much time in the woods as I can. They (NYCO) run a clean organization.
"What would the Towns of Lewis, Willsboro — all the towns around here — do without them?”
Email Kim Smith Dedam: firstname.lastname@example.org
The expanded mining and trucking permits sought by NYCO are open for review online or at APA headquarters in Ray Brook.
For a detailed description, see the project notice posted on the Environmental News Bulletin: dec.ny.gov/enb/enb.html
Public comment on the permits is being accepted through July 16.
Written comments should be sent to: Thomas E. Saehrig, Environmental Program Specialist, Adirondack Park Agency, PO Box 99, Route 86, Ray Brook, NY 12977.
To make arrangements to review the project application file, call 891-4050.