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Adk. Council to help EPA assess oil train problems

Legislative Gazette
June 3, 2014

By, Richard Moody

One of the Adirondack Park's most powerful advocacy groups is joining forces with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to protect the park from the potential dangers of transporting crude oil through its borders.

The Adirondack Council announced it was invited to participate in a 2015 statewide assessment led by the EPA, which along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, will develop region-specific plans to respond to possible oil spills in environmentally sensitive areas, including the Adirondacks and the Lake Champlain region.

According to the Adirondack Council, the EPA's assessment of potential problems and planning for emergencies is the result of a letter the environmental group sent the EPA back in April requesting assistance in protecting the large wilderness region from increased oil train traffic.

Walter Mugdan, director of the Emergency and Remedial Response Division of the EPA, explained in a letter to the Adirondack Council.

"[The] EPA is committed to working with our response partner agencies to best prepare for any potential environmental emergency in New York state. We invite the Adirondack Council to join us in this planning effort for those areas along the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain," Mugdan wrote.

The Adirondack Park consists of a 9,300-square-mile public Forest Preserve, commercial timberlands, farms and 130 small, rural communities surrounded by thousands of lakes and ponds and more than 30,000 miles of rivers, brooks and streams.

John Sheehan, communications director for the Adirondack Council, said the group's role in the planning process would be limited to providing input on environmentally sensitive areas in the park such as vulnerable wetlands and residential communities.

Sheehan said there are about 135,000 year-round residents of the park.

Crude oil transport through New York has increased in recent years. According to Sheehan, only one track is currently used for the transport of crude through the Adirondack Park which runs through several communities. The former Delaware and Hudson line, owned by the Canadian Pacific Railroad, which runs from Montreal to Albany, lines the shore of Lake Champlain.

In particular, the Adirondack Council is concerned about the close proximity of the track to communities and waterways, especially winding sections of the track; worn infrastructure such as rails and bridges; and the lack of rail crossing signs at several points along the track.

According to the group, the crude transported through the park is mostly crude oil extracted from the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota. Bakken oil is considered highly volatile and more environmentally damaging than other forms of oil.

The transportation of crude by rail through the state has become a hot political issue after several derailments have caused problems in places throughout North America, including one in Quebec which took 47 lives and one in Lynchburg, Va., which contaminated the James River and caused local neighborhoods to evacuate.

Sheehan said he thinks creating response plans are a good first step, but the group will recommend the elimination of the use of DOT-111 cars which have been criticized for having thin walls that can be easily penetrated in derailments.

"We are pleased that the EPA responded to our concerns with a plan to assess the risks and protect clean water, communities and sensitive wildlife habitat," said Adirondack Council Deputy Director Diane Fish.

Sheehan said local emergency personnel will participate in the planning process and are "keenly aware" of the possible hazards associated with increased oil transportation through the Adirondacks.

Fish said, "We look forward to working with the EPA, the state DEC and many local officials and first-responders on this important task. Our hope is that anything traveling by rail through the Adirondacks travels safely. But if there is a spill of some kind, we need to be prepared to act quickly to protect park residents and the environment

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