- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 16, 2014

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A mining company must delay test drilling on Adirondack Forest Preserve land under a temporary restraining order issued by a New York state judge in a lawsuit claiming the work was illegal despite state agency approval.

New York voters approved a constitutional amendment last fall for NYCO Minerals Inc. to expand its Essex County pit mine onto 200 acres of state-owned land in exchange for 1,500 acres elsewhere. The company had planned to do test drilling before completing the swap, to ascertain whether it contained a rich vein of wollastonite, a white mineral used in ceramics, plastics, paints and other products.

But Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice said Wednesday that since the 200 acres is still under state Forest Preserve protection, any tree-cutting or test drilling is illegal, despite approval by the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency.

Earthjustice filed the lawsuit against the state agencies and NYCO on behalf of Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, the Sierra Club and the Atlantic States Legal Foundation.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Buchanan granted Earthjustice’s request for a temporary restraining order Tuesday, providing the environmental groups post a $10,000 bond to cover NYCO’s damages if Earthjustice loses the suit. Goldberg said the bond was posted Wednesday.

The restraining order is good until Aug. 22, when Buchanan will hear arguments from both sides.

The department and NYCO declined to comment on the lawsuit or the restraining order.

“A majority of New Yorkers and two successive, separately elected Legislatures amended the constitution to authorize the NYCO project,” department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said in an email. “DEC is implementing that constitutional amendment in a manner that is consistent with sound environmental policies and practices.”

State Forest Preserve land in the Adirondacks is protected by the state constitution as “forever wild,” meaning it can never be sold, traded, developed, or logged without a constitutional amendment.

The lawsuit contends that the constitutional amendment approved by voters suspended only one layer of protection for the 200 acres of Jay Mountain Wilderness known as “Lot 8” and that a number of other laws must be followed before drilling can occur.

“It is a flagrant legal violation for the agencies to allow mineral exploration unless and until the full range of laws protecting our wilderness areas from commercial exploitation and industrial uses have been amended,” said Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild.

The groups contend there is no reason for NYCO to rush into development of the plot because it has plans to expand its existing mine by about 50 percent and owns another permitted mine two miles away that should be ready for mining by 2016.

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