Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

October 21, 2013

CONFER: A look at state Propositions 4, 5

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Of the six statewide propositions on November ballots, items 4 and 5 will likely see the least amount of attention and care from voters on this side of the state since they are focused on issues in the Adirondacks. Some Western New York voters won’t make a selection at all on those items, while others might randomly choose yea or nay.

That’s a poor, even selfish, approach to fulfilling our obligations as citizens, especially since we are empowered to make decisions that, while not affecting us personally, can affect people, economies and environments elsewhere.

So, to help you to make informed choices, here’s a quick analysis of those propositions.

Proposition 4 settles a longstanding land dispute between the state and residents, businesses and local governments in Long Lake and Raquette Lake. The disagreement over ownership of 216 parcels dates back to the 1800s when the state took – or attempted to take – ownership of lands from property owners who were allegedly delinquent in taxes but likely weren’t due to shoddy recordkeeping on behalf of the government.

Despite numerous lengthy and costly court cases through the years — some won by the state, others won by individuals — definitive answers regarding ownership haven’t yet been determined.

This proposal would finally bring closure by giving the property owners, most along the shoreline of Raquette Lake, clear title to their lands. In exchange for the benefits of full ownership, they would pay the state a fee equal to a portion of their assessed value. The state would then use the funds to buy more than 200 acres of wild, forested land between Raquette Lake and the Eckford chain of lakes, add that land to the Adirondack Forest Preserve and protect it from development and forestry, ensuring public and environmental benefit.

Proposition 4 is a win-win for all involved. The landholders can finally rest assured that their property is truly theirs (something that their predecessors didn’t have the ability to) while we (the state) gain a critical piece of forest that serves us greater benefit than ownership of those homes and cabins ever would have.

While that one was a no-brainer, Proposition 5 is a bit dicey.

NYCO Minerals operates a pit mine in Lewis that it wants to expand by 200 acres so it can capitalize on a healthy vein of wollastonite that it has discovered. By doing so, NYCO would be intruding on constitutionally protected land Adirondack wild land.

Wollastonite is used in ceramics and the production of brakes and clutches.

NYCO, in order to facilitate its own growth, would give the state 1,500 acres of land that would be added to the Forest Preserve, providing outdoor enthusiasts with access to the Jay Mountain Wilderness Area. If during mining operations the Department of Environmental Conservation determines that the vein has a royalty value greater than $1 million, more land would be given to the state. On top of that, once the wollastonite mining has ceased, NYCO will reclaim and replant the 200 acres and give it back to the state.

There are two ways to look at this proposal.

The general sentiment amongst Adirondack residents, the Adirondack Council, the Adirondack Mountain Club, local and state officials and editorial boards across the Adirondack Park is that the mining and land swap is a good thing. It ensures economic development in a depressed region that hangs by a thread during the absence of summer tourists.

NYCO is a 60-year-old business that employs 100 and has an annual payroll in excess of $6 million, and the land being acquired is not only sizable, it contains far greater natural and recreational value than the 200 acres temporarily being given up.

While most environmentalists give Prop 5 a thumbs-up, there is a small minority — which some would classify as “hardcore” environmentalists — who oppose it on the basis that it defeats the whole purpose of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and opens the door to future intrusions on the wilderness. They have a very legitimate point.

Section 1 of Article 14 of the state constitution says Preserve lands “... shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged or be taken by any corporation public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.”

It’s up to you to decide who’s right.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.