Almost immediately after a state appeals court tossed a lawsuit that had stalled a Tupper Lake resort for 16 months, Protect the Adirondacks was back with another similar suit to block another big private project that had waited through a years-long process before finally being approved.
Protect, Adirondack Wild and some outside-the-Park groups, including the Sierra Club and Atlantic States Legal Foundation, have filed suit and succeeded - temporarily, at least - in blocking NYCO Minerals' exploratory mining on 200 acres of the Jay Mountain Wilderness in the town of Lewis. They hope to win in the courts a battle they already lost among voters, lawmakers and state agency officials.
There's always a chance judges will agree with them, but this seems like a harder fight than the resort lawsuit was, since this time the project they oppose has a gigantic stamp of approval from the democratic process we, as a people, rely on. Two separately elected state Legislatures agreed to amend the state Constitution to allow this mining operation, and then it went to every voter statewide this past November. It passed - not overwhelmingly, but sufficiently.
The plaintiffs claim the constitutional amendment wasn't enough, that it only "suspended one layer of protection for Lot 8 (as the 200-acre parcel is called), but all other legal requirements protective of Wilderness areas remain in full force and effect."
The APA, meanwhile, says the amendment overrode laws such as the State Land Master Plan. From a layman's perspective, it would certainly seem so. If not, then the voters and lawmakers were hosed. They clearly thought they were making a decision about actually let NYCO mine on Lot 8.
APA Commissioner Richard Booth, who has been the agency board's strongest voice for environmental protection, anticipated the suit but doesn't agree with it.
"This may well get litigated, and that's not a surprise," he said at the agency's June meeting, at which it approved NYCO's mining plan. "But I think, given the vote of the public, this is what the public anticipated would happen."
The Park's two larger green groups, the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Mountain Club, have supported the project because NYCO, in exchange for mining rights on 200 acres of state land, would give the state 1,500 other acres to add to the Forest Preserve. We think that's a good deal, both from an environmental and an economic standpoint.
More than 40 percent of New York voters said "no" to that offer, but these plaintiffs are refusing to take the majority's "yes" for an answer. How is any decision to be made in the Adirondacks if every years-long review is followed by years of legal obstruction?
This suit will be a public burden: It will eat up tax dollars as well as the time and resources of a company that has painstakingly leaped every regulatory hurdle, and it will sow more rancor in future Adirondack politics. Apparently the more zealous environmental groups have money to burn, but it's sad they're making New York taxpayers and employers burn through their resources, too.