“The American people must make a fundamental decision. Do we continue the 40-year decline of the middle class, or do we fight for a progressive agenda that creates jobs, raises wages and takes on the economic and political power of the oligarchy?”

— Senator Bernie Sanders

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Did you know there’s a 13,000 acre Salt Mine under Lansing and Cayuga Lake?

(Map of Cayuga Lake with Cargill’s current and proposed salt-mine locations.)

By Deborah Dawson and Cait Darfler

Seven of us arrived at the NY DEC Region 7 Headquarters on Monday May 1st, 2017 for a meeting with the Regional Director, Matt Marko, and 6 other DEC lawyers and scientists. For some in this group of Tompkins County residents, geologists, activists and Lake lovers, this has been a fight for over 30 years to bring transparency and environmental review to the massive salt mine under our precious Lake; for others, this is the first step.

How did we get here?

Solution salt mining began at the south end Cayuga Lake 1890s, and by the early 1900s the salinity of the lake was higher than that of any other unmined Finger Lake. Cargill bought the 50-year-old room and pillar Cayuga Salt Mine in 1970.  At the time, mining operations were entirely under the Town of Lansing on the east side of Cayuga Lake.  Historically, mine operators simply dumped their tons of salt fines into the Lake, polluting the lake and making it saline.  To its credit, Cargill stopped that polluting practice, and chloride levels in the Lake dropped accordingly.  The passage in 1972 of what is now the Clean Water Act made the practice of dumping salt fines in the lake illegal.

In 1986, Cargill expanded its mining operations into salt deposits under Cayuga Lake.  This was easier and more profitable for Cargill:  rather than negotiating mineral rights with multiple land owners, Cargill only had to deal with New York State, which owns the Lake and the mineral rights, and charges only a modest fee per ton for the salt Cargill mines.

By 2012, Cargill had extended its mining operations under the Lake northward for six miles.  This meant that miners had to travel more than 45 minutes to get from the access shaft to the mining area.  Since Federal mine safety laws and regulations require that miners must be able to evacuate a mine within an hour, this situation was unsustainable.  Cargill began looking for a way to build an access shaft farther north in Lansing, closer to current mining operations.  And that brings us to why we were meeting with the NYS DEC on a Monday morning, and the beginning of grassroots resistance to Cargill’s expansion plans.

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Our Mission

“The Tompkins County Progressive Committee is a grassroots organization dedicated to the promotion of progressive issues at the local level. We are inspired by the political movement started by Senator Bernie Sanders but are open to participation from all progressives regardless of their political-party affiliation. Our leadership members meet regularly to plan activities (including public outreach and education around the issues), to build networks, and to recruit and support candidates for public office. We are a chapter of the statewide umbrella group New York Progressive Action Network (NYPAN).”
       – Bylaws of the Tompkins County Progressives (Adopted January 5, 2017)

Bylaws of the Tompkins County Progressives


Executive Board Officers

       (Elected January 5, 2017)
       Co-Chairpersons: Emily Adams and Kim Knight

       Treasurer: Jason Cortell

       Secretary: Deborah Dawson


Executive Board Members-At-Large

       (Updated April 6, 2017)

Cait Darfler
Margaret Fisher
Ronny Hardaway
Kris Hodges
Anna Kelles
Martha Laux
Ted Laux
Joe Lawrence
Ryan McHugh
Katy Nicholson


Executive Board Meeting Minutes