Viewpoint: Thirty years of mining discussion in Oneida County
I remember attending a hearing in the courthouse back in 1989. The hearing was held in a small room, and there was probably no more than a dozen or so people there, including county officials and an industry representative. The hearing was about a mining lease on county forest lands in the town of Lynne. The Noranda representative said not to worry because it was rare to actually find anything. This was disingenuous because, we now know that both Exxon and Kerr-McGee had done work at the site, and had reason to believe that something was there. They could not do exploratory drillings, though, because the forest was closed to metallic mining. Members of the public in attendance raised concerns about the leasing plan, but it didn’t matter.
Few people in the county knew what was happening, including in the town of Lynne. Many people were outraged when they learned that the county government had leased “their land” to a Canadian mining company. Public opposition was intense, and county government lost the public’s trust.
Our county government didn’t know what they were doing. All they had to work with was the bizarre policy resolution that opened the forest to metallic mining. The premise of the resolution was that “safe and sensible mining” was assured. This was proven to be untrue as soon as it was tested. The mentality in the courthouse was, “let’s just lease the forest, and see what happens, they probably won’t find anything anyway.” No one bothered to understand the physical nature of our county forest, so no one understood what conflicts would result if a mineral deposit was discovered.
Any supervisor in the courthouse, who has been paying close attention for the last 30 years, would not have been surprised by the result of the referendum question last November. It was merely a reflection of the 30-year public record of opposition to leasing the county forest for metallic mining.
There are several supervisors on the board that have their agenda and don’t care what people think, and there are a few others, like Bob Mott, who think they have a clever, in-between, position. Let’s just open the forest to metallic mining, except for the Lynne site, they say. There just may be some special, unknown place in the county forest, where a sulfide mine would be a smashing success for everyone, they speculate.
We don’t want our elected representatives on the county board to wheel and deal, gamble, and roll the dice with our water resources on our county forest, to promote something as destructive as a sulfide mine in this watery world that we call our home.
Oneida County made a big mistake back in 1989. Thirty years later, there is a slim majority on the board, seemingly poised to repeat that mistake, albeit with Lynne off of the table.
Here are two ways to avoid repeating that mistake: Oneida County needs to evaluate the physical nature of our county forest. This means identifying the lakes, streams and wetlands, and then, evaluating the depth of overburden, or depth to bedrock, and the depth to water table. This will give the county a clear view of the conflicts that a sulfide mine would present on our county forest.
Then present this information to the owners of the property, hold public hearings and, please, listen.
Karl A. Fate, town of Crescent