ITHACA, N.Y. — Cargill’s message to the county – ‘if we don’t get a new mine shaft in place, we will be forced to shut down’. That’s the gist of an application the company submitted to the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority last week.

The Cayuga Mine in Lansing has been in operation since 1922, starting as the Cayuga Rock Salt Company, and later bought by Cargill in 1970. The mine produces about two million tons of rock salt per year, extracted 2,000 feet below Cayuga Lake. According to the IDA application, the mine employs 183, with most staff making $40,000-$60,000/year, and all employees make at least a living wage.

The mine has slowly been working its way northward, and is now about a mile north of Taughannock Point. The area of active mining is over seven miles from the existing mine shafts, which poses ventilation challenges and possible safety issues in the event of an emergency. If a new shaft is not put in soon, the mine will be closed within a decade.

Cargill says they are working through the NYS DEC permitting process to insert a new shaft to access the northern reserves. The company wants to build the new access shaft, 14 feet in diameter and 2,500 feet deep, on 55 acres of land it owns five miles north of the current access shaft. This would allow miners to evacuate 30 minutes faster, and provide the infrastructure and fresh air needed to sustain the mining operation for at least the next thirty years. Construction would start in 2017 and be completed by 2020. The project also includes electrical upgrades to increase energy efficiency, change rooms for the miners, and a small maintenance shop.

To help offset the $32 million expense, Cargill is requesting a one-time sales tax abatement on the purchase of equipment needed for the project. The abatement is valued at $640,000. The company estimates creating four new jobs, though salt production is not expected to increase.

Readers may recall that the mine halted operation for almost two months earlier this year after 17 miners became trapped on board a malfunctioned elevator. All the miners were rescued unharmed, but the investigation and inspection of equipment forced Cargill to hold off on resuming production until it was all deemed safe to continue.

The county IDA is set to review the application at their meeting Thursday afternoon. Since the requested abatement is over $100,000, a public hearing is expected to be scheduled for later this fall.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.