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Adirondack Council Praises Governor's Intervention to Evict Railroad Junkyard from Adirondacks

For more information:
John F. Sheehan
518-441-1340 cell
518-432-1770 ext. 203

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, December 19, 2017

MINERVA, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council today thanked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for intervening on behalf of the Adirondack Forest Preserve in a dispute with a Chicago railroad company that is parking derelict oil tankers on this national landmark. 

The oil tank cars are owned by a subsidiary of giant real estate company Berkshire Hathaway.  The Governor is also calling on Berkshire Hathaway owner Warren Buffett to remove the cars himself if the railroad doesn’t.

“We are very pleased to see Governor Cuomo file this complaint with the federal Surface Transportation Board,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway.  “Our attorneys have advised us that this is the right venue for the complaint and that the state has firm legal footing to ask that the railroad be declared abandoned.  That would essentially evict both the tanker cars and the current operator.

“We are also pleased that the Governor called on Warren Buffett to act as well,” Janeway said.  “Our members have sent him more than 1,000 emails and letters urging him to have these oil takers removed, since the end of November.”

Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries Marmon Group, Union Tank Car Company, Procor and North American Tank Line own most of the cars.

“This is an important step for a long term sustainable use for this travel corridor, which is appropriate for the heart of the Adirondack Park,” Janeway said.  “Any future use of this corridor should be both environmentally and aesthetically appropriate, and supportive of sustainable, vibrant communities.”

New York’s Adirondack Park is one of the world’s largest and oldest parks.  It protects most of the wilderness and old-growth forest remaining in the Northeast.  Its Forest Preserve has been protected as “forever wild” by the state Constitution since 1894.  Although it is owned and administered by New York State, the entire 2.7-million-acre Adirondack Forest Preserve is further protected as a National Landmark.

The controversial junkyard is being assembled on a railroad that leads from the ski resort hamlet of North Creek to an early-19th Century iron mine 22 miles into the forest.  The railroad terminates between the Hudson and Opalescent rivers at the old Tahawus mine, on the edge of the park’s famous High Peaks Wilderness Area.

Several miles of the railroad cross the Forest Preserve.  The tracks also cross the Upper Hudson River, and run along the Boreas River, both of which are protected as “Scenic” under the NYS Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Program.

Tahawus’s iron mines were among the first in America, but failed due to impurities (ilmenite) in the ore. A century later, as World War II began, the federal government realized ilmenite was needed for the construction of titanium-alloy war ships and airplanes.  It seized a right-of-way for rail access to the mines to secure strategic materials needed for the war. New York objected, but chose not to challenge the seizure in court.

The rights to use the line were set to expire after the war ended.  Instead, the rights were extended for decades.  Today, Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC of Chicago (IPH) is leasing the rights to use the line.  Those rights could be extinguished if the company fails to operate a railroad. 

IPH says the tanker junkyard qualifies as a railroad operation.  Its president Ed Ellis told the local media he plans to store as many as 2,500 tanker cars on the railroad.  At 58-feet-long, 2,000 tankers would occupy 21.96 miles of track. 

Not Really a Railroad Anymore

Local residents, officials and conservationists say that would be a linear junkyard, not a railroad. They want the 60-plus cars already stored there removed.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed his opposition to the oil tanker junkyard and said the state would do whatever it could to stop it.  Town and county officials have also expressed their opposition.

Janeway said a wall of rusty rail cars would create a barrier to wildlife, imperil water quality and undermine the state’s efforts to promote this region as a wilderness recreation destination.  New York has spent tens of millions of dollars acquiring new Forest Preserve in this portion of the Adirondacks over the past 20 years.

The controversy has been featured in national media outlets and has even inspired the release of an original protest song entitled Junkyard Express, by renowned Adirondack folk singer Dan Berggren. 

Adirondack Council Hired Legal Experts

In general, railroads are governed by federal transportation law.  However, the federal Surface Transportation Board has allowed states to enforce environmental regulations that are stricter than federal law as long as the action doesn’t prevent the lawful operation of a railroad or interfere with interstate commerce, Janeway explained.

The Adirondack Council is working with attorneys in Albany and Washington, D.C. to secure legal remedies to the junkyard, which the organization says is illegal under state and federal law.  It is also working with state officials to urge IPH to remove the junkyard.

The Council and local residents had supported IPH’s previous plans to run a scenic passenger railroad and to haul mine tailings from the former mine site.  But the company has failed in those businesses.  It is instead renting space on the line to companies that pay to park derelict tankers until they can be refitted, repurposed or scrapped.

Many stored there now are the unsafe DOT-111 models that destroyed most of Lac Megantic, Que. when they derailed in 2014, killing 47 people.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park.  The Council envisions a Park comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant, local communities. 

The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action.  Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States. www.adirondackcouncil.org

 

 

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