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Editorial: Vote 'no' on state Proposal No. 5, Adirondacks land swap

Miners using heavy equipment to dig wollastonite ore

Miners using heavy equipment to dig wollastonite ore from a pit mine in the Adirondacks. Adjacent to the mine lies 200 acres of constitutionally protected state forest land that the mining company, NYCO Minerals, wants to swap for 1,500 acres elsewhere so it can expand its mine. (July 9, 2013) Credit: AP

On Tuesday, a provision in the constitution that protects 2.6 million acres in the Adirondacks as "forever wild" will be seriously tested. We hope the effort fails.

Nearly 120 years ago, in one of its most enlightened actions ever, New York State decided to permanently protect its vast Adirondacks wilderness. The area had been exploited for its plentiful lumber starting in the 1600s. But by the late 1800s, clear-cutting of trees was causing severe erosion and flooding. So in the 1890s, the state designated a 6-million-acre patchwork of public and private lands as Adirondack Park, and defined 2.6 million of those acres as the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The protection was enshrined in the constitution, which says this preserve "shall be forever kept as wild forest lands." The area was put off-limits to "corporations, public or private."

Voters on Tuesday will be asked to consider making an exception. NYCO Minerals Inc. seeks to annex 200 acres of "forever wild" Adirondacks land to expand an existing wollastonite mine, which yields a mineral used in auto parts, paints and plastics. NYCO says its existing pit is nearly exhausted.

NYCO would, in return, give New York about 1,500 acres nearby to place into permanent protection. And when the 200-acre mine is closed, it would be replanted and go back to state ownership.

Some advocacy groups, such as the Adirondack Council environmental organization, want the land swap because it would expand the "forever wild" preserve. Some elected officials and business groups point to NYCO's pledge to preserve 100 much-needed jobs.

On the other side are groups such as the Sierra Club and Adirondack Wild, which oppose the amendment. Their reasons are many, but the loss of "old growth" trees for mining is a major one.

Our concern is that the proposal will open the door to increased commercial exploitation. In the century since adoption of the "forever wild" provision, voters have approved more than 20 constitutional amendments authorizing development in the Adirondacks, but these were mostly for public benefits, such as longer airport runways and the Interstate 87 highway. Tuesday's ballot initiative seems to mostly benefit a private, for-profit company. That precedent would represent a dangerous violation of the state's 1894 pledge to protect the wilderness.

Vote no on Proposal No. 5.