- By Dan Veaner
Five protestors paddled near Cargill Salt Mine in kayaks and a pontoon boat on Cayuga Lake Tuesday to demonstrate against the mine and a seismic testing vessel that has been operating since August 8th. But mine officials said that the testing is a standard procedure.
"As part of Cargill’s standard salt mining operations, every few years we commission a third party expert to conduct a seismic study on portions of Cayuga lake," said Mine Manager Shawn Wilczynski. "The study uses sound waves to map the subsurface geology. It’s common practice in mining to verify geology above and around mining operations. We anticipate the study to be completed by the end of the week."
The testing is taking place in the southern portion of Cayuga Lake, south of Long Point State Park. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was reportedly notified that testing would be conducted between August 8th and the end of the month. Seismic testing is being done by a robotic vessel with a 300 yard-long string of hydrophones. Airguns mounted on the research vessel suddenly release pressurized air bubbles to create a sound, then reading the echoes with the use of hydrophones.
The mine, which is mainly beneath Cayuga Lake, produces about 2 million tons of road salt each year. At 2,300 below the surface, the Cayuga mine is the deepest in the United States.
Cayuga Lake is the second largest Finger Lake. There is about 1,865 feet of rock between the lowest point of the lake and the mine. The lake has lake-shore in 12 New York towns. In addition to Lansing, the lake Covert, Fayette, Genoa, Ithaca, Ledyard, Ovid, Romulus, Seneca Falls, Springport, Ulysses, and Varick. According to the DEC Cayuga Lake is home to lake trout, Atlantic salmon (also called landlocked salmon), rainbow trout, brown trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, northern pike, chain pickerel, bluegill, pumpkinseed, black crappie, yellow perch, channel catfish, brown bullhead, freshwater drum, common carp, longnose gar, white sucker, longnose sucker, alewives, rainbow smelt, gizzard shad, round goby and lake sturgeon.
The mine was originated by John Clute in 1915, then sold to Frank L. Bolton and John W. Shannon in 1921. It was acquired by the Cargill Rock Salt Company in 1970. Salt from the mine is shipped to more than 1,500 locations throughout New York and the northeast United States.
In its call for protestors Cayuga Lake Water Protectors said, "Seismic testing is harmful to aquatic life and maybe harmful to Cayuga Lake’s endangered Lake Sturgeon." But some studies conclude that this kind of testing is not harmful to fish, especially if it is not concentrated on the same area. A 2016 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine concluded that the seismic testing didn't kill fish. "The number and range of injuries were statistically no different for the sound exposed and control fish, indicating that the state of acclimation of test and control fish was the same," the study concluded, though with a caveat that other forms of testing might have differing results.
Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now (CLEAN),which has protested under-lake mining in the past was not a sponsor of Tuesday's protest, according to co-founder John Dennis.
Active mining is entirely below Cayuga Lake, spanning from the topside Portland Point facility under the lake to as far north as Bill George Road near Swayze Road. Currently held mining rights initially permitted in 2003 will allow Cargill to expand farther north to Milliken Station before negotiating with the State again for more area to the north. Wilczynski says the current permit and reserves (unmined permitted mining area) allow for many more years of mining. He says that in order to mine north of the current boundary the mine would have to obtain a permit modification from New York State, which controls the land beneath the lake. The first step of that process is conducting geologic studies and evaluations to determine if mining is feasible. If it is determined mining is possible then the process of environmental assessment would start, which would begin with the submission of an Environmental Assessment Application with the DEC, followed by a public comment period and further reviews.