ITHACA, NY – A resolution that would have required Cargill to perform a full environmental impact review before moving ahead with its planned $32 million mine shaft expansion failed to pass with a 6-8 vote in the Tompkins Legislature on Tuesday.

The project came under scrutiny earlier this year both because of environmental concerns and because Cargill was asking the county for a $640,000 sales tax abatement on equipment and materials purchased for the project.

While the Tompkins Industrial Development Agency approved the abatement last month, environmental concerns still lingered. Many, including Ithaca Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council expressed concern that there was not enough notification and opportunity for public comment regarding the project.

Legislator Carol Chock put forth a resolution calling on the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to retract its declaration of negative environmental significance for the project and require that Cargill prepare a complete Environmental Impact Statement for the site.

Prior to the legislature’s deliberation, several members of the public spoke about the issue, with several questioning if the initial investigations into the project’s impacts were thorough enough and providing substantive technical details regarding potential long-term issues.

Peter Bardaglio, President of the long-embattled Black Oak Wind Farm project in Enfield, was among those who spoke in support of the resolution. Comparing it to his own project, Bardaglio explained that it took Black Oak three years to produce 4,000 pages worth of studies, costing the company $500,000.

“I find it hard to believe that we had to carry out a thorough study like for the environmental impact of the wind farm and for some reason DEC thinks not a similar process is not required for the Cargill project,” Bardaglio said.

Legislators deliberate

“The goal is just to bring transparency, to have the DEC engage in the kind of process that we ask the corner grocery store to engage in, should there be any questions about potential impacts,” Chock said. “Let’s just level the playing the field. There’s no reason a $45 million industrial-scale project next to our lake shouldn’t be subject to the same rules as everybody else.”

Legislator Dan Klein, speaking in support of the measure, first emphasized that many agencies had done their due diligence on the project and said that Cargill had shown itself to be a very good corporate neighbor. However, he felt that asking the DEC to hold the project to the highest possible level of scrutiny possible, for the safety and prosperity of all.

“They’ve done what they need to do. Just from a common sense point of view, even a $2.3 billion corporation doesn’t want to spend $45 million to put a hole in the lake so they can drown their own mine,” said Legislator Jim Dennis, in opposition of the measure.

Legislator Martha Robertson said that she spoke with a DEC official, who said they would take any new information into account even though the comment period deadline had passed and potentially reevaluate the need for an Environmental Impact Statement.

With that in mind, Robertson said that the issue should now be in the hands of expert geologists and out of the hands of the legislature, who are unqualified to evaluate the information. She voted against the measure, suggesting that passing the resolution anyway would be like “the boy who cried wolf” — that raising a fuss when the DEC is already paying attention could damage the county’s credibility in future matters.

Ultimately, the resolution failed with a 6-8 vote. Legislators Dave McKenna, Glenn Morey, Martha Robertson, Mike Sigler, Peter Stein, Jim Dennis, Rich John, and Chair Michael Lane voted no.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.