Village of Lansing

The Village of Lansing Board of trustees voted Monday to join an Article 78 proceeding to force the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to require a full environmental review of the Cayuga Salt Mine's Shaft #4 project, the tunnel connecting the shaft to the existing mine, and future mine expansion beneath Cayuga Lake.  After a contentious discussion the Trustees voted 3-1 (with one abstention) to pass the resolution.

"I have a lot of concerns with the way DEC is treating our area," said Trustee Ronny Hardaway as he presented the resolution to the Board.  "They have basically washed their hands of Gun Hill and said that there's lead all over it, but everything's OK.  Right now we have a major construction that is going to be built above the salt mine, that will allow the salt mine to extend itself northwood.  Cargill has split their request to DEC into pieces.  Therefore each piece is evaluated independently.  The tunnel that will join the mine to the shaft was one, the shaft is another.  A future request will be to extend the mine further north.  To me that smacks of segmentation."

The Article 78 proceeding is to be filed by Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (CLEAN), a local group of activists who have presented evidence they say shows a chance of a mine collapse could cause a monumental lake disaster similar to a 1994 disaster in Restof, New York when a mine collapsed and filled with water, causing property damage, sink holes, and damage to local water wells.  Cargill mine officials countered that independent scientists have certified the Cayuga mine is safe, and that annual reviews by independent geologists are part of the normal process of conducting mine business.

Article 78 proceedings take their name from Article 78 of the New York Civil Practice laws and Rules, which allow challenges to decisions already made.  The proceeding can only be brought in the County Supreme Court.

Mayor Donald Hartill said he had not reviewed the documents on the CLEAN Web site and would want to study both sides before voting on whether to support the lawsuit.

"I have a real problem with that.  The problem is the science behind this," he said.  "I have a colleague in the Engineering Department who is one of the consultants for the DEC, a highly respected individual.  I would be very reluctant to doing this without further careful study."

"Wouldn't a careful further study also include an environmental impact study?" Hardaway countered.  "There's never been an environmental impact study on anything related to Cargill.  They have skated around the regulations."

Deborah Dawson, who is running unopposed for Tompkins County Legislature (representing the Villages of Lansing and Cayuga heights), said the difference of opinion by respected scientists is a good reason for the DEC to conduct a review that could confirm that more under-lake mining is safe.

"I have nothing against Cargill," Dawson said.  "I know that in many ways they are a very good corporate citizen.  But their job is to mine salt as profitably as possible.  It is not to objectively and transparently evaluate the environmental risks to their activities.  That's the DEC's job."

In July Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton joined with Assemblyman Steve Englebright to urge DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos to enact a moratorium on permits and avoid approving activities that would lead to expanded salt mining under Cayuga Lake.  But in August the DEC issued a permit to Cargill to build the shaft.  The surface portion of the project is currently under review by the Town of Lansing Planning Board which has no jurisdiction over environmental review on this particular project because that is under the jurisdiction of the state DEC.

After Lifton held a press conference to announce her call to stop under-lake mining, Cargill Mine Manager Shawn Wilczynski noted that Cargill representatives had not been consulted before she took action.  Wilczynski says he has reached out to government officials and is available for any officials who have questions about the shaft project or the mine in general.  Just last month Sigler, Lansing Town Board members Katrina Binkewicz and Robert Cree; Planning Board members Lin Davidson, Larry Sharpsteen, Dean Shea, and Deb Trumbull; Lansing Planner Michael Long, Town attorney Guy Krogh, and NYS Senator Pamela Helming toured the mine.

"Cargill has demonstrated a willingness to meet with any elected official and in every case those officials have left assured of Cargill’s ability to safely and sustainably mine under Cayuga Lake," said Wilczynski tuesday.  "Cargill was not asked to be involved or informed this topic would be on last night’s agenda. I am disappointed that the elected officials of the Village of Lansing would choose to vote on a matter this important without involving Cargill in their process."

The Village of Lansing is not alone in joining the CLEAN initiative.  Hardaway noted that that Ulysses, the Village of Aurora, Danby, and Caroline had already joined the lawsuit, and said that Trumansburg and the City of Ithaca Common Council was considering joining.  He said the Village would be lending its name to the proceeding, but there would be no monetary cost to doing so.

"I think if we were going to have something like this build in our village we would request an environmental impact study," he said.  "I think it behooves the DEC to also request that on our behalf.  It's the job of the state government to protect our environment.  They're not looking at the whole picture.  They're putting blinders on and looking at a very small piece and saying 'it looks good to me'."

Trustee Gerry Monaghan said there was a motion on the table, but could it be tabled to give board members a little more time to do more research.  Trustee John O'Neill said he would like to table the motion until the next meeting.  Hardaway said adding the Village to the lawsuit once it is filed could cause problems in terms of time and money and 'muddying the legal waters'.  He asked whether further reflection would change anyone's vote, pushing hard to vote immediately.

Hardaway and Trustees Gerry Monaghan and Patricia O'Rourke voted in favor of the resolution, with O'Neill voting no and Hartill abstaining.

"I feel uncomfortable about being blindsided by this," Hartill said.

Supporters of the mine were quick to react.

"It’s pretty rare to see the abandonment of transparency that was displayed at the Village of Lansing Board this October 2nd, when they voted to object to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation permit for Cargill to build its new mine shaft," said County Legislator Mike Sigler (representing most of the Town of Lansing outside of the Village) in a Facebook post. He concluded, "Again, this is a stall tactic and voters know it. I find it unconscionable that these three Village board members would vote for this, risking the jobs of 200 people as they look down from their comfortable lives not considering the damage they are doing to these workers, to their taxpayers, and to their community, which benefits from the century old mine. They've decided to believe the charlatans, and not the NYS scientists. It's appalling."

Sigler argued that the DEC followed its own rules, and made the decision to issue the permit based on solid science.  His post set off a spate of comments by Village officials and others posting in favor of and against the mine.

"I support Cargill.  I support the economic impact and the good jobs they do, and I also support the DEC and their findings," said Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne, who attended the Village trustees meeting.  "I have worked with them on other projects and I respect their opinions.  I would have hoped this would have been on the agenda so people would have had time for public comment.  I thought it was out of the ordinary to do something like this, but that's something for the Trustees to decide, not me."