Environmental groups are threatening to take to a higher court their battle against a mining company’s plan to drill for wollastonite in the Jay Mountain Wilderness.
On Thursday, Earthjustice filed a notice of appeal with the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, a step that preserves its right to appeal the dismissal of a lawsuit against NYCO Minerals, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Adirondack Park Agency.
“The agencies’ determinations here really were illegal and null and void, and they shouldn’t be allowed to go forward,” said Hannah Chang, an attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit organization that specializes in environmental law.
Earthjustice contends that a permit issued by DEC to allow test drilling in the Wilderness Area violates the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan and other environmental laws. Earthjustice is representing Protect the Adirondacks, Adirondack Wild, the Sierra Club, and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation.
In December, State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan dismissed the suit and lifted a temporary restraining order that had prevented NYCO from drilling test bores for wollastonite, a mineral used in ceramics, plastics, and paints.
Ordinarily, mining is forbidden in the Forest Preserve, which is protected by the state constitution as “forever wild.” In 2013, however, the public voted to amend the state constitution to authorize the state to give NYCO a 200-acre parcel in the Jay Mountain Wilderness in exchange for other lands. The swap will not take place until NYCO confirms that the parcel, known as Lot 8, has sufficient wollastonite to make the deal worthwhile.
Last summer, DEC issued a permit that allows NYCO to cut trees in the Wilderness Area for service roads and drilling sites.
Among other things, Earthjustice disputes DEC’s finding that the test drilling would result in no significant adverse environmental impact—a finding that freed NYCO of the obligation to prepare a lengthy environmental impact statement. Earthjustice also claims that the Adirondack Park Agency’s amendment of the Jay Wilderness management plan to allow drilling violated the State Land Master Plan.
DEC and APA contend that the constitutional amendment, known as Proposition 5, supersedes laws and regulations that conflict with it. Nevertheless, state officials say the drilling plan was designed to protect the environment.
Dan Plumley, a partner with Adirondack Wild, said the environmental groups are negotiating with DEC to provide stronger protections for songbirds, rare flowers, vernal pools, streams, and old-growth trees on Lot 8. “Those are the things we’re looking for. We’re still in negotiations,” he said.
Plumley said the groups have not decided whether to follow through on the appeal.
Lot 8 borders NYCO’s existing mine in the town of Lewis in Essex County. The company says that mine will soon be depleted.
A company spokesman could not be reached for comment.