The Jones & Laughlin (J&L) Steel Site (the Site) is located at the crossroads (4669 State Route 3) of New York State (NYS) Route No. 3 and CTY Route No. 60 in Town of Clifton, St. Lawrence County, New York (coordinates 44.168334°, -74.994359°), a section of Adirondack State Park. The Site is a former 54-acre iron ore processing facility that ceased operations in the late 1970’s. Mining activities at the Site are recorded as early as the late 1880’s when the Magnetic Iron Company began developing the area on top of what they believed would be a valuable ore body. The Benson Mines Company started open pit mining operations at the Site and produced magnetite and non-magnetite ore intermittently up through 1918; however, the mine closed from 1919 to 1941. The Site was re-opened in 1941 when the J&L Steel Corporation leased the Site and its mineral properties under the company name Jones and Laughlin Ore Co. The following year a processing plant was built on the Site by the Defense Plant Corporation (created by Congress in the 1940s to expand the United States production capabilities for military equipment; this included building new facilities and expanding existing structures). Following World War II the plant was sold back to J&L Steel Corporation. With the improvement of the onsite facilities, mining and ore processing proceeded on a larger scale. During this time in the 1950’s the Site (still referred to as Benson Mines) was the largest open pit magnetite mine in the world and employed up to 1,000 people. By the 1970’s the plant and mining operations diminished and the plant ultimately closed in 1978.
In 1988, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) was notified that an oil spill was discovered in the Little River a tributary to the Oswagatchie River which leads to the St. Lawrence Seaway, adjacent to the Benson Mine. The NYSDEC traced the spill back to the 54-acre former iron-ore processing facility located on the Site and stated that the spill origin was from multiple sources. As of 2012 of the more than one million gallons of #2 Fuel Oil, 350,000 gallons had been recovered since the oil spills discovery. A 1,000’ long, 15’ deep polyvinyl curtain separates the contamination area from the Little River. The curtain however, is no longer holding back the plume and oil again is seeping into the river. The site was referred to the USEPA in late 2013 and cleanup is now underway funded by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990/Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.