TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — The main courtroom of the Tompkins County Courthouse was packed Monday afternoon for a hearing about whether the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation should have required an Environmental Impact Statement before issuing a permit to Cargill to build a new mine shaft.

The petitioners in the Article 78 case include the City and Town of Ithaca, the Town of Ulysses, the Village of Union Springs, Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) and several individuals. They allege the DEC violated the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act by issuing a modified mining permit to Cargill in Lansing, which allows it to construct a new vertical shaft in its mine. Petitioners say the DEC violated the law by not requiring an Environmental Impact Statement before issuing the permit.

John Dennis, president of Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) speaks to a crowd gathered outside the Tompkins County Courthouse on May 11. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
John Dennis, president of Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) speaks to a crowd gathered outside the Tompkins County Courthouse on May 11. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Each court appearance in this case, even for technicalities over document delivery, has drawn a crowd. For the people who have rallied before the court proceedings, the case is about protecting Cayuga Lake.

Related: Local towns, environmental activists petition Cargill and DEC for environmental review

Attorney Richard Lippes, of Buffalo, listed a number of environmental impacts detailed in affidavits by experts, such as mine collapse and the risks of brine discharging into the mine or into the lake.

Lippes said there is “risk of significant harm to the Cayuga Lake community. That harm could be catastrophic and an Environmental Impact Statement could determine how significant those risks are.”

In a previous interview, Brian Eden, a member of the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council, said from the court proceedings and petition, they want an environmental impact statement.

“It’s a very complex project,” Eden said. “We get environmental impact statements for things that are much less threatening than this. … We want even-handed treatment of the SEQR process, environmental review should apply equally. You know if a local homeowner has to do this, a large corporation should also have to do it.”

Did the DEC take a hard look at the potential impacts of the mine shaft? Loretta Simon, arguing on behalf of the state, said yes. Simon said the DEC corresponded with Cargill for about eight months requesting additional information before making a negative declaration of environmental impact. She said the process was “painstakingly slow” and they made “a decision that was rational.”

“This is evidence of taking a hard look,” Simon said.

The petition is centered around the permit issued for a new mine shaft at Cargill. When requesting a tax abatement from Tompkins County Area Development in 2016, Cargill said they need to construct a fourth mine shaft for safety reasons. At the time, Cargill said without the mine shaft, operations at the mine in Lansing would be discontinued in a few years.

An Article 78 petition was filed in Tompkins County Court in December. Article 78 is a proceeding typically used to challenge actions or appeal decisions made by administrative agencies and other government bodies in New York State. Read the petition filed in Tompkins County Court below.

Judge John Rowley, who is presiding over the case, did not make a decision Monday.

Article 78 Petition by on Scribd

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.