In the News  Archive

State legislature approves bump in oil spill fund

April 1, 2015
Denton Publications

By Pete DeMola

ELIZABETHTOWN — Late Tuesday, the state legislature approved Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed increase in funds to the state’s oil spill fund as part of the 2015-16 budget.

Capped at $25 million since its inception in 1977, the governor proposed to increase the fund to $40 million.

The bump, the exact financial amount of which remains unclear, will expand the range of activities covered by the fund, including planning, exercises and the purchasing of disaster response equipment.

The additional funds will come from raising the fees on the trains that transport the ever-increasing amounts of oil through the state.

Volume has skyrocketed 4,000 percent in the past six years.

Essex County lawmakers symbolically endorsed the legislation earlier this week.

It’s because of this increase that the state needs to ensure the safety of local communities against the impacts of a possible incident, said the supervisors.

“One spill will financially devastate any community where this happens,” said Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava.

Willsboro Supervisor Shaun Gillilland said bolstering the fund is important because it would provide an immediate source of financial assistance in the event of a derailment. Waiting weeks for the oil and railway companies to share costs just isn’t feasible, he said. “When this does happen, it’s going to need an instantaneous source of money,” he said. “We can’t have a little town here with a million gallons of oil running down a river waiting weeks.”

David Blades, of Lewis, supported the resolution but said he was concerned about unfairly docking railway companies, which have no control over the cargo being transported on their lines due to common carrier laws.

Charles Harrington, of Crown Point, said the measure was a way of keeping attention focused on the issue. “There has to be more scrutiny provided,” he said, noting railroad tracks passed within 40 yards of the town hall in his community.

The increase in funds will allow the DEC to form geographically-specific response plans that identify environmentally sensitive areas designated for specific protections.

It will also establish the New York State Flammable Liquid Firefighting Task Force, a group that will deploy the often-costly foam across railways statewide in the event of an incident.

Port Henry Fire Chief Jim Hughes said the task force would “absolutely” be helpful to his department in the event of a derailment. “To take it a step further, it would be a tremendous benefit to the Essex County Mutual Aid System, especially departments fixed along the railway corridor,” he said.

Hughes said his department is continuing to cooperate with the Essex County Hazmat Team to prepare for possible incidents along the rails.

And as part of ongoing cooperation with Canadian Pacific, the company that owns the railway running through the Champlain Valley, the department has sent three fighters to Colorado last week for training.

Prior to last night's approval, environmental groups also lobbied for the increase.

The Adirondack Council had called for the fund to be bumped to $100 million.

Citing four accidents in North America within the past four weeks, the group said the cap needed to be brought back to parity with the monetary protection it afforded nearly four decades ago.

But overall, said the group, they were pleased with the budget, which also included a three-year, $200 million capital program to repair wastewater treatment and drinking water facilities and a $15 million increase in the Environmental Protection Fund above last year for a total of $177 million.

The EPF appropriations include an increase of $7.4 million for capital projects in the four Adirondack high-priority areas of open space protection, smart growth planning, invasive species controls and public land stewardship.

“The Adirondack Council recognizes and applauds the efforts of Governor Cuomo and his team, the NYS Senate and Assembly, in particular Environmental Conservation chairs Thomas F. O’Mara and Steven Englebright, Sen. Betty Little and others from the North Country and across the state, and many organizations who also worked on these issues,” Executive Director William Janeway said in a statement following the passage of the budget.

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