Salt Kings of New York City: The Bucci Family Talks

Joe Bucci, Jr. and Joseph G. Bucci, Sr.;
Photo: Courtesy of American Rock Salt/B) David Mandeville

The Bucci family has been in the salt mining business in Livingston County, New York for four generations, beginning in 1908 when salt was primarily used to preserve food. As refrigerators outgrew salt preservation, America began using that same salt to defrost its new highways, which is when the next Bucci, Joseph Edward, entered the tunnels, rising through the ranks to become the plant’s chief engineer before being killed in a 1975 mining accident.

They all mined the same 350 million year old bed of salt, which has been overseen by a handful of different companies over the years. Today, Joseph Edward’s son, Joseph G. Bucci Sr., is co-owner and CEO of the current manager, American Rock Salt. His son, Joe Bucci Jr., is the mine’s environmental and safety manager. Together, the family is behind one of the largest salt mining operations in the country, supplying most of the Northeast, but not New York City, which gets its salt from Chile.

If Governor Kathy Hochul signs the Buy American Salt Act, which would change buying laws to push local governments to buy household salt as long as the cost doesn’t increase by an “unreasonable amount,” the family would likely one of its greatest beneficiaries.

We spoke to Bucci Jr. and Sr. about how they would get their salt to New York, what it’s like to work underground, and why people keep trying to set up New Agey spa retreats in their tunnels.

So you’ve been in the business for a long time.
Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: At the turn of the century, a large number of Italians came from central Italy, many from the same towns near Naples. And my grandfather came here and drove a mule through the same area where we work today; the mules would stay underground, pulling carts of salt until they went blind and died. He rose through the ranks from muleteer to carpenter. My father started mining in 1939, straight out of high school. My father went from foreman, to senior foreman, to supervisor, to chief engineer of the factory. He was going to take over the management of the factory in September 1975. But on April 15, he was killed in a mine explosion.

What happened?
Joe Bucci Jr.: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had asked the mining company to enter and close some of the old pits. Some of the old shaft wood had been damaged.

Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: So they had the idea to put down a camera to film where all the damage was. He came down with the camera and there was an explosion, caused – we found out later – by methane emissions mixed with rotting wood. It was a 2.5 on the Richter scale. I was working as a history teacher at the time and was in class when it happened. Everything shook. I walked down the hall and said to the other history teacher, “Watch my class. I’m leaving.” After my father passed away, I quit teaching and opened my own real estate business. A few years later, the mineral rights to the mine where he had worked – acres and acres – were put on hold. for sale. The operator at the time wanted to get out of the business. That’s how I became a co-owner.

How big is your mine anyway?
Joe Bucci Jr.: It is the largest producing salt mine in the United States. I guess the best way to describe it is that we’re about the height of the Empire State Building underground. In a good year, we will extract 4.5 million tons of salt. We can load up to 1,100 trucks in one day and 90 railcars in one day.

Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: Over the years, I continued to collect mineral rights as they became available; we now have 13,000 acres, enough to last about 50-60 years. Our salt bed here is about 1,200 feet deep.

Joe Bucci Jr.: But there is also another salt deposit about 150 feet below where we are currently mining. So if we could get the permit for that, we could also mine that as well.

Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: Then we would be another 50 or 60 years on top of that.

It looks like a massive operation.
Joe Bucci Jr.: We are the largest private employer in Livingston County. We have about 400 employees, not counting the trucking and railroad jobs that kind of depend on this operation.

Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: About 900 related jobs in trucking. Most of it goes to New York, Pennsylvania, parts of West Virginia, New England states, parts of Ohio, New Jersey and Connecticut. But not New York; they get their salt from Chile.

Inside the American Rock Salt Mine

The Bucccis Mine in Livingston County processes a bed of salt that has existed for 350 million years.

According to the Buccis, their company is one of the largest in the country. None of their salt currently goes to New York.

About 400 employees are involved in mining.

Courtesy of American Rock Salt, American Rock Salt/David Mandeville

The new law could change that.
Joe Bucci Jr.: Well, that would, in general, give American companies and their workers the first chance at government contracts. Some of these countries where the salt comes from don’t have the same labor standards as we do, do they? They don’t pay people what we pay people. There are no environmental, health or safety regulations in place.

Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: Or human rights.

Joe Bucci Jr.: We are bidding against salt from Egypt and, you know, say the bid is a few dollars off or maybe even less. We lost auctions —

Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: For 25 cents less.

Joe Bucci Jr.: Less than five cents in some cases—a few cents per ton.

Joseph G. Bucci Sr.: To give you an example, the county of Wyoming, which is next to us — we lost this [bid] a few cents. I don’t know the exact number. So now they get salt from Canada. We are right next door.

Joe Bucci Jr.: We have a lot of employees who live in Wyoming County, and they weren’t happy about it. But under current procurement laws, you know, there’s no such option. You must choose the lowest bid. So what the law does is it allows or gives flexibility to local governments to have a second look.

Well, finally, how is it going in the mine?
Joe Bucci Jr.: Well, it’s kind of like stepping back in time, isn’t it? You cross a part of the earth that has not been touched for 350 million years – on the bed of an ancient ocean, really. You take salt that was a 350 million year old ocean, grind it, process it, bring it to the surface, and put it in the back of a truck or railcar. Salt dust is in the air, so you taste it. Honestly, if you have a cold or have any allergies, this is probably the best place to clear them. We’ve had some really weird requests over the years where people have asked if they could create a space in the mine for wellness, respiratory therapy, meditation and all that kind of stuff.

Do you think it keeps you healthy?
Joe Bucci Jr.: I think it keeps me a little pickled.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Back to top button