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Assemblywoman Lifton calls for moratorium on lake salt mining


A request for a moratorium on salt mining under Cayuga Lake has drawn sharp disagreement from Cargill Cayuga Salt Mine representatives.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, D-Suffolk County, chair of the Assembly's Committee on Environmental Conservation and a geology professor at SUNY Stoneybrook, wrote a letter July 13 to the Department of Environmental Conservation requesting a moratorium on new permits and approvals for mining under the lake.

The move followed a presentation by geologist and SUNY Geneseo Professor Richard Young on what he said were risks that would be imposed by mining during a meeting with state DEC officials in June.

Prior to the proposed moratorium, Cargill began pushing for the creation of a fourth mine shaft that would aid in the company's mining operations by providing access and ventilation to miners. It currently takes workers 45 minutes to arrive at a mining site.

Lifton compared catastrophic events that she said could happen to Cayuga Lake to a Retsof mine collapse in Livingston County in 1994 that caused sink holes and property damage. On Thursday at the Cayuga Lakefront at Stewart Park, she said mining under the lake would create a risk that could pollute the lake and contaminate drinking water for thousands of people.

Walter Hang, of Toxics Tageting, and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton respond to questions about the Cargill Cayuga Salt Mine.
(Photo: Matt Steecker / Staff photo)

Along with Walter Hang, of Toxics Targeting, who explained geologic conditions that he said would contribute to catastrophe, Lifton said Cargill should only be allowed to mine on the adjoining dry land, which she said is able to provide enough salt.

Hang said Young's data shows geologic horizontal forces pushing in from the sides of the valley that became Cayuga Lake. According to Young, these opposing horizontal forces can have the effect of creating a force that's moving up from the bottom of Cayuga Lake, just like the upward force at Retsof. Hang also added that efforts should be taken to keep Cayuga Lake protected because it is already on the New York State Section 303(d) List of Impaired Water Bodies.

The DEC has already sent a letter to Cargill advising the company to contact property owners about mining on dry land, Lifton said.

"This approach would preserve local jobs important to me while protecting Cayuga Lake — a completely sensible course of action that observes what we call the precautionary principle: prevent problems because they are hard and often impossible to remedy after," Lifton said.

The Cargill salt mine in Lansing was closed for nearly two months in January and February 2016 after an elevator malfunction trapped 17 miners 900 feet underground for 10 hours.

At the conference, Lifton and Hang drew criticism from Cargill representatives during their announcement on Thursday for not having had discussions with Cargill or having enough significant discussions with local government officials before Lifton requested the moratorium from the DEC. Lifton said she did not meet with the Lansing Town Board before sending the letter to the DEC.

Some in attendance were concerned of the effect the moratorium would have on Lansing.

"It's extremely disappointing you don't seek the other side," said Shawn Wilczynski, mine manager of the Cargill Cayuga Salt Mine, to Lifton.

Wilczynski said there is no current threat mining operations pose to the lake. He based this assessment off of independent studies Cargill conducts each year as well as independent third-party studies. Altogether, he says three or four studies are done each year.