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Environmentalists oppose Lansing salt mine


The mining company Cargill wants to expand their salt mine in Lansing, but environmentalists are raising a number of concerns. Listen to correspondent Amanda Chin’s story, and read the transcript below:

CHIN: Fourteen feet wide. Two thousand five hundred feet deep. Thirteen thousand acres…and forty two million dollars. Those are all of the components of a mine shaft that was just issued a permit by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, to be built in Lansing.

CHIN: What’s the problem with this mine shaft? Well, many people are in opposition to this project—especially since the whole facility lies underneath Cayuga Lake, one of the deepest lakes in North America.

CHIN: One of those opposed to this project is Walter Hang, an environmentalist and president of Toxics Targeting, a database service that obtains environmental data from local, state, and federal sources.

HANG: If the Cayuga mine collapsed under Cayuga Lake, it would make the lake polluted, and that’s where 30,000 people get their drinking water. They didn’t understand in the beginning when they were mining under the lake the threat to water quality.

CHIN: Now, what is this mine shaft exactly? Walter says the mine is used to extract salt underneath Cayuga Lake, using mechanical equipment which can be used to melt ice and snow.

HANG: The problem with the existing mine is that it’s so huge that they’re in danger of not being able to allow the miners to escape in case of an accident, and that’s what this proposed shaft is all about. It would also provide improved ventilation.

CHIN: One thing’s for sure: Walter definitely does not want the mine shaft being built underneath Cayuga Lake. But he would be okay with having it built on dry land.

HANG: We want to switch the mining away from underneath the lake to under dry land. This is the perfect time to do it, because without this shaft 4 which would cost an enormous amount of money to build, they can’t mine under the lake. If you go a little further under dry land, you take away the threat of the lake. Turns out, the DEC actually told Cargill they should begin to explore this option, so it’s perfect timing.

CHIN: We reached out to the state DEC for an interview, and they replied to us with a statement. They said they reviewed all of the opposition’s concerns, and determined that the new salt mine will not have significant adverse environmental impact. However, the DEC said that their permit will not allow Cargill to build under the lake, at least for now.

CHIN: Mike Sigler, a Tompkins County Legislator, is all for this mine shaft being built.

SIGLER: I want you to imagine, if you’re seven miles underground, you literally need to shove air from the surface seven miles underground to where your people are. It’s very energy intensive to do that. Whereas if you’re gonna move the mine shaft six miles closer, then you only have to bring in air from that distance—only a mile.

CHIN: Sigler says he had some issues with the environmentalist opposition.

SIGLER: That leaves us with some folks who don’t want to believe the DEC, or think it’s somehow corrupted. I’m sorry, but I frankly don’t believe that the DEC has any kind of nefarious attempt that would threaten Lake Cayuga.

CHIN: Walter says, to Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton’s credit, he has seen a lot of support for the shaft to be built elsewhere.

HANG: I think we’ve finally gotten a very focused citizen effort, and we have a coalition letter which has almost 400 or 500 signatories. Also some very prominent people have joined this effort. So, for the first time, we really had time to crank up the pressure on the governor.

CHIN: Although he says it’s almost impossible to win big environmental victories, he is hopeful and optimistic.

HANG: What we’re showing is that you can be effective. You can stop shale fracking—we’re the only state that stops shale fracking as it spreads from coast to coast. Because of the political action we took, because of research, because of coalition building. That’s why we are hopeful that we’ll be able to replicate that victory on Cargill and be able to clean up the lake.

CHIN: After all, Walter may end up victorious with this one. The DEC was pretty vague about whether or not Cargill could build a shaft under the lake. However, this past Wednesday the Common Council passed a resolution, requiring a new environmental review before Cargill can build this mine.

SIGLER: It’s clear to me that, apparently, if you like the science that you’re gonna agree with it. But if it runs counter to what you believe, you’re going to deny that science.

CHIN: But we won’t know the result of this development until next month’s Common Council meeting.

CHIN: For WICB News, I’m Amanda Chin.