LANSING, N.Y. — On Wednesday, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYS DEC) issued permits for Cargill to install a new mine shaft in Lansing, despite opposition from environmental activists that sought to have the request denied.

As previously reported, the $42 million Cargill project would allow the firm to construct a 14-foot wide, 2,500-foot deep shaft, as well as some supporting and ancillary structures on ground level (locker room, meeting room, containment structure for the shaft hoist). “Shaft 4” is intended to allow better electrical access, air exchange and faster extraction of its nearly 200 mining staff in the event of an emergency.

Without the new shaft, Cargill had stated that operations at the Lansing salt mine would need to be discontinued within a few years. The extraction areas had moved so far from the primary access shaft over the decades that cost and safety issues were becoming a major concern.

Map of Cayuga Salt Mine. Created by Karen Edelstein, and courtesy of Tompkins County Progressives.

The project has not been without controversy. The project narrowly avoided the county legislature mandating a full envrionmental impact study back in November. More recently, the project encountered stern opposition from environmentalists led by activist Walter Hang and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-125th). Last month, Lifton held a press conference asking the state for a moratorium on all new permits for mining under Cayuga Lake, saying that the mining techniques that had been used under the lake had put the mine at risk of a catastrophic collapse. In response, Cargill representatives said that the DEC performs independent inspections annually, as well as the two to three other independent inspections and Cargill’s annual inspection.

According to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, construction on the new shaft is expected to take about a year. An 11-inch “pilot hole” is drilled first, and then the full-sized shaft will be drilled using a raised bore process, meaning the hole is drilled from the bottom up. Materials dislodged by the drilling will be stored in unused mine segments.

Brian Crandall

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