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Lake and Valley Clarion NewspaperGenesee Country MagazineClarion Communications

Salt of the Earth

The decline and fall of Akzo Salt . . .
. . . & a new mine rises from the ashes

Act 1: Outrage over ash

Throughout the 1990s decade, and for a few years previous, the saga of the Livingston County salt mine has progressed from one nearly unbelievable chapter to the next, like some never ending newspaper soap opera.

The notorious 'Kick Ash' issue had largely resolved itself at the time The Clarion commenced publication in May of 1989. Akzo Salt Co. had recently won a court victory over Geostow, the French corporation which had sought out and purchased 'cavity rights' over the old portions the mine, with the intent of using the mined out cavities for disposal of waste incinerator ash.

In those far off days of harmony, the salt mining and environmentalist communities were the best of friends. Akzo was viewed as the hero who had fought to keep the toxic ash out of the mine and away from the underground aquifers. In August of 1989 we reported court confirmation that Geostow would have to wait until the salt mine was closed before the company could begin exercising its cavity rights and burying ash.

But the mild winter of 1991-92 was a difficult time for the mine. The March 12 Clarion announced 40 layoffs. On March 26, 1992 the Clarion announced, 'Akzo considers ash storage.' The company that had previously courted the alliance of environmentalists in the battles against ash storage in the mine had decided to become the agent bringing the ash into the mine.

The environmental community cried betrayal. The ill will between the environmental and salt mining communities, created by this proposal, has not healed to this day. It would be the beginning of Livingston's second long and contentious battle over ash.

For its part, Akzo contended the project would enhance the physical stability of the mine and produce year-round jobs which were not weather-dependent.

Akzo was very public relations conscious with the proposal, hiring press officers, assembling a 'citizens' panel' to offer input , and 'revealing ash project research' . But the good intentions went askew when Clarion reporters were banned from the first Citizen's Panel meeting.

On July 2 Akzo guaranteed property values in the vicinity of the mine project, while the Abby of the Geneseo registered its objection to the proposal. By November 12, 1992, when the Clarion launched a five part series entitled "Akzo ash: the burning issues," the issue had indeed become hot. Protect a Clean Environment (PACE) activists who had not been heard from since the late 1980s were again on the scene, loudly condemning the proposal.

Continuing in a mode which reflected a high consciousness for its public image, Akzo embarked upon a public demonstration and research project in the town of Leicester, which would show how ash would be consolidated in a concrete mixture. Environmentalists fought the demonstration project every step of the way.

The July 22, 1993 Clarion coined the word "Akzomania" to described contentions then brewing over permitting for the project. DEC was not happy that Akzo had trucked in a load of ash without seeking proper approvals. Furthermore, the Town of Leicester had passed anti-waste disposal laws, which the project might be violating.

On November 11, Akzo received DEC permission to proceed with the demonstration project. A December 3 protest rally, marching through Cuylerville to Boyd-Parker Park, featured environmentalists damming the project. But the demonstration project, located in a metal pole barn in Leicester, got underway in December. In February, the court confirmed the legality of the demonstration project as a 'mine related activity,' immune from the local Leicester law.

On March 12, 1994, at 6:43 p.m., an apparent "earthquake" rocked the Leicester and Mt. Morris areas, bringing the salt mine saga into its next chapter...

Forward to Act 2: Death of a mine

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