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Protect Cayuga Lake Campaign - July 2017

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.

Lawmakers calling on DEC to stop salt mine expansion

ITHACA (WENY) - Cayuga Salt Mine has been in operation for nearly 100 years. Now, Lawmakers are calling on the DEC to put an end to under water expansion.

Cargill recently applied for more permits, allowing it to expand its current operation north up the lake. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton announced Thursday, that she and Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, drafted a joint letter to the DEC asking to block their request and subsequent requests.

Lifton and Englebright say, mining under Cayuga Lake could pose potentially catastrophic risks. “Anyone who wants to understand the catastrophic consequences of a mine collapse should study what happened when the Retsof mine collapsed in Livingston County in 1994,” said Lifton. “It caused sink holes and major property damage."

But what are the chances of a collapse like that happening again. Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting says he couldn't say. "If heaven forbid there were ever a catastrophic failure in that mine. It would very likely flood and cause irreparable pollution problems in that lake."

Right now, Cayuga Lake serves as a fresh water resource for more than 30,000 people. Officials say, this is one of their main concerns. But Shawn Wilczynski, the Mine Manager of Cargill, Lansing says, "he sustainability of the lake. As I mentions it's absolutely critical to the employees at Cargill. And we are members of the community as are our families our friends and everything else."

Mike Sigler, the Tompkins County Legislature is asking, why it wasn't "unsafe 30 years ago. It's because it isn't unsafe. The mine knows what it's doing." Adding, his concern for the miners themselves; "Of course there's going to be a loss of jobs."

It's not know how the DEC will respond to Lifton and Englebright's letter.

Assemblywoman urges halt in Cargill salt mine expansion below Cayuga Lake

ITHACA, N.Y. – In a press conference Thursday morning, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton voiced concern for future mining activity below Cayuga Lake, calling for a moratorium on expansions of the Cargill salt mine, a proposal which has mine workers concerned.

Cargill was approved for a $640,000 sales tax abatement by the county in October after the company was seeking the abatement to help fund a new $32 million mine shaft. Without the shaft, Cargill said it would have to cease operations within a decade.

The abatement drew criticism community members who were concerned about the environmental impact while others felt the multi-billion dollar company should not be granted a tax abatement.The DEC previously issued a declaration of negative environmental significance in regards to the project and Tompkins County Legislature voted down a resolution in November which would have required Cargill to perform a full environmental impact review before moving ahead with the expansion.

Currently, Cargill salt mines are spread over seven miles below Cayuga Lake. Cargill employs about 200 people and produces more than 2 million tons of rock salt annually, half of which stays within New York State, according to Mine Manager Shawn Wilczynski.

Lifton, accompanied by Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, said Thursday that given potential threats the Cargill salt mine poses upon the lake she felt it was necessary to call on the DEC and alert the agency of the matter.

Lifton shared a letter, which was written jointly with Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright, in regards to her concerns about potential threats future salt mining could have on Cayuga Lake. The letter calls on the DEC to impose a moratorium on future expansions of the mine and avoid approving permits that would lead to additional salt mining locations under Cayuga Lake.

"A key question is whether relatively new "small pillar" mining techniques used at the site may be insufficient to resist powerful geologic sources associated with both the continental scale compression that is impacting the glacial valley sediments and the glacial scour weakened lithified strata that is the overburden," the letter reads.

Over the past six months, Lifton said she has heard increasing concerns from her constituents in the 125th assembly district in regards to the matter. In a recent meeting with DEC officials, Lifton said SUNY Geneseo Professor Richard Young presented research comparing the Cayuga mines to the Retsof salt mine, which collapsed in Livingston County in 1994.

"Retsof was one of the nation's biggest salt mines and the worst salt mining disaster in New York State," Lifton said. "When the mine collapsed it flooded with water resulting in immense sinkholes, property damage and had an impact on local water wells. It took two years for the mine to refill with water from surrounding aquifers."

According to Hang and Lifton, Young's research suggested that there were clear parallels between the Retsof and Cayuga mines. Hang said both mines used a relatively new mining technique which employs small pillars.

"The geological horizontal forces are pushing in from the side," Hang said. "This has the effect of creating a force that is moving up from the bottom of Cayuga Lake."

Lifton said her goal was not to put a stop to salt mining entirely, but instead to continue work in existing mines and transition mining efforts onto dry land. Since mining companies only have to negotiate with the state over mineral rights underwater, if Cargill were to begin mining efforts on dry land they would also have to begin negotiation efforts with property owners. Lifton said the transition period would happen over the course of several years.

"This is a perfect time to begin to phase out mining under the lake and begin to mine salt under the dry land in the adjoining area," Lifton said. "This would completely safeguard the lake without causing loss of jobs, but the lake comes first when it comes to preventing these pollution problems."

Because of federal law, Hang said additional expansion to the mines will not be possible since miners are required to have to make it out within an hour.

Wilczynski said the proposed shaft was more of a precaution to ensure the health and safety of miners below the lake. He said that currently, it takes about 45 to 50 minutes for miners to get to the current mining location.

"We do struggle to provide fresh air and an escape way that would be closer to where (miners) are working," he said. "The main reason for the shaft is for the health and safety of our employees, which seems to be getting lost when it is purely that simple."

As part of the expansion agreement, Wilczynski said a minimum of three to four mine stability reviews are conducted annually at the underwater location, dating back to 2003. He said seven years of analysis and comprehensive study of the lake served as a foundation for the company since 2002, which they continue to modify.

Wilczynski said Cargill has agreed to meet with the DEC once a year as a part of the expansion terms. The company is also required to provide an annual report to the DEC which is verified by two other parties, and the raw data is then sent to a third party for independent review.

"We all do share the exact same things - the protection and sustainability of the lake is important to everybody involved," he said. "We are members of this community as well, as are our families and friends. We are reminded every day when we show up to work – the lake is a constant reminder and we take extreme responsibility for that and go to great lengths and will continue to do so."

State Assemblywoman announces Cargill Mine letter in contentious press conference

ITHACA– The State Assemblywoman to the Ithaca area announced Thursday that she would be speaking out against salt mining underneath Cayuga Lake.

In a press conference held by the lake with Toxics Targeting President Walter Hang, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton stated that she was part of a joint letter sent to the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. In it, she along with fellow Assembly member Steve Englebright urge the DEC’s Commissioner Basil Seggos to prohibit the local Cargill Salt Mine from expanding beneath the lake. Lifton elaborates further on what got her involved in the issue.

“I’ve heard from a number of constituents, gotten information, gotten data, and I’ve grown increasingly troubled about the Cargill Shaft 4 permit application”, she said. “These concerns are shared by many of my constituents who drink water supplied from this lake, live near the lake, or simply treasure Cayuga Lake”.

Hang also announced his own citizen’s coalition, and explained what they plan to do.

“We’re gonna be writing to the Governor to echo this request”, he said. “That there be a prohibition on any issuance or permits, approvals or authorizations of any kind that could lead to salt mining continuing under the lake”.

The press conference grew heated at several moments, with members of the community calling Hang an “alarmist” and that this move was a ban on all area mining. Lifton moved to deny this however, stating that as an alternative Cargill could instead focus on digging beneath adjoining dry land.

Lifton calls for stop to mining under Cayuga Lake

Long the subject of scrutiny by the local scientific community, the Cargill Salt Mine in Lansing has attracted the attention of Tompkins County’s voice on the New York State Assembly, Barbara Lifton, who has joined the group of those opposed to further salt mining under Cayuga Lake.

In a press conference on the shores of Cayuga Lake on Thursday Lifton, joined by activist and founder of local environmental research firm Toxics Targeting Walter Hang, announced a proposal to call for a moratorium on any additional mining under Cayuga Lake while, in the meantime, urging Cargill to pursue mining under the stable ground of the land surrounding the lake.

The announcement comes after data produced by Dr. Richard A. Young, an expert on salt mining at SUNY Geneseo, was presented at a meeting in Albany on June 15 attended by Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, and high-level Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) officials, outlining concerns that expanded salt mining under Cayuga Lake could pose potentially catastrophic risks to the lake in the event of a mine failure. Young, whose expertise includes extension study of a 1994 salt mine collapse in Livingston County, presented a new study drawing certain parallels between the conditions of the Retsof salt mine collapse and those present at the Cargill site, urging DEC officials to reconsider their approval of Cargill’s mining operations as it works to dig a new mine shaft for its workers.

In a letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos, Lifton – who at this point has yet to meet with Cargill officials or members of government in the Town of Lansing – and Englebright call for the DEC to prohibit future mining activities under Cayuga Lake, stating the information created a “growing concern” about Cargill’s application to drill a new egress shaft for its workers to improve ventilation for its employees 45 minutes from the surface and, in theory, allow the 18,000 acre mine’s continued push up the length of the lake.

Though the proposed shaft itself presents little to no inherent risks, the continuation of mining under the lake has raised concerns among the mine’s opponents: according to Young’s research, the mine’s construction and the geologic anomalies of the mine present risks resembling those apparent in the Restof mine collapse.

“If the Cargill mine suffered a similar disaster, the potential catastrophic effects on Cayuga Lake would be unprecedented and irreversible,” Lifton said.

Citing the potential threat of such a moratorium to the jobs of 200 people, Lifton suggested as an alternative to focus on mining under the adjoining dry land instead, an arduous process that would involve negotiations with multiple landowners for the rights to the minerals thousands of feet below.

The press conference itself rowdy at times, Lifton and Hang were confronted by a number of supporters for the mine who casted doubts on the legitimacy of activist’s concerns. David Cornelius, a former surveyor in the Cargill Salt Mine, called Hang an “alarmist,” with several supporters from the mine bringing up inconsistencies or perceived inaccuracies in the portrayal of the danger present in mining under the lake including, according to one person in attendance, significant differences in the pillaring of the Retsof mine – the nature of which may have led to the mine’s collapse – versus the relatively new “small pillar” system employed in the Cayuga mine. Notably enough, according to local environmental activist John Dennis, the construction of the Restof mine was done on the recommendation of current Cargill engineer Gary Peterson, who currently oversees the layout and construction of the mine in Lansing.

According to Mine Manager Shawn Wilczynski, the new studies presented by Young are nothing new and the perceived lack of oversight by the DEC, overstated.

In 1995, Cargill initiated a seven year process to create an advanced environmental assessment of the mine’s surroundings, a highly advanced geological assessment whose team included two geology PHDs and a comprehensive survey of all available data from the United States Geological Survey. Since its completion, that study has been used as a baseline for all of Cargill’s independent assessments of the mine’s safety, a document which is reviewed on an annual basis with the DEC in the form of an individual mine stability analysis. That survey then goes through several independent reviews before acceptance by the state.

“Every single year, the mine’s stability, the mine’s plans… everything is gone over,” Wilczynski said. “The DEC – as lead agency – has been providing tremendous oversight over this. We all do share the same thing – the protection of this lake is the paramount thing to everybody – and we’re members of this community as well. We’re reminded every single day of where we work. That lake is a constant reminder of that.”

“The main reason we want to do this is for the health and safety of our employees,” Wilczynski said, who noted that the trip 1,400 feet below the surface takes approximately 45 minutes to travel. “It’s frustrating that fact gets lost when it really is that simple.”

For Lansing’s County Legislator, Mike Sigler, the prospect of derailing one of Lansing’s largest employers because of a lack of trust in the judgement of the DEC is an unreasonable one.

“The science isn’t good enough for them apparently,” Sigler said. “A lot of people trust the DEC. Apparently these people don’t.”

He added: “It’s just one more moratorium for Lansing.”

Assembly members call to stop Cayuga Lake salt mining expansion

LANSING, N.Y. -- There's a new call to stop the expansion of salt mining under Cayuga Lake - and to move operations out from under the water.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton wrote a letter to the DEC detailing concerns with the Cargill Cayuga Salt Mine.

She says an expansion under the lake could potentially cause major risks, in the event of mine failure.

Lifton referenced the Retsof Mine collapse in Livingston County in 1994, saying it caused sink holes, property damage and polluted water.

She says her team's main concerns are protecting the lake and ensuring its sustainability.

But some former mine workers and other legislators say there is no problem with the mine remaining under the lake.

"The DEC has signed off on the project. They are the scientists that have signed off on this," said Mike Sigler, a Tompkins County legislator. "So they are denying the science from the state and listening to other people who really don't know what they're talking about."

"This is something serious that I think the state ought to look at," said Lifton. "I'm not making a final judgment call, that's not my expertise or authority."

Cargill's Salt Mine manager says the mine gets inspected once a year.