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Adirondack Council Urges U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to Protect Communities Lake Champlain, Wildlife from Crude Oil

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Largest Park in Contiguous United States Threatened by Rail Shipments via Montreal

For more information:
John Sheehan
518-441-1340 cell
518-432-1770 ofc

For immediate release: Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ELIZABETHTOWN, N.Y. – The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization today urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take action to protect the Adirondack Park, Lake Champlain and more than a dozen lakeshore communities from the dangers of transporting explosive crude oil through the region.

“There have been significant increases in crude oil tanker car rail road traffic through the Adirondack Park and along the western shore of Lake Champlain over the past year or so,” the organization wrote to EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck in New York City.  “We are very concerned that this traffic could lead to a catastrophe similar to -- or worse than -- the derailment and explosion that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Que., last summer.

“All of our small communities along the route are at risk,” wrote Adirondack Council Deputy Director Diane Fish.  “So is Lake Champlain’s water quality, along with thousands of acres of NY’s most productive farm land, three major rivers, public lands, fish and wildlife.  It is vital that the EPA act to protect these waters and the safety of those who live around them.”

So far, little seems to have been done to assess and address the potential harm these rail shipments could cause to people, water and land along the route, she wrote.  Regardless of what action New York officials might take, federal involvement in warranted, she noted.

Photos of the major rail crossings and oil trains traveling on the rail next to Lake Champlain available at:

“In the case of Lake Champlain, federal involvement is sorely needed.  We share Lake Champlain with Vermont and Quebec,” Fish wrote. “Any disaster on the lake shore would be felt far beyond New York.”

Making matters worse, rail officials have refused to share emergency plans with local fire departments and rescue squads or county emergency management officials.  Meanwhile, dangerous, outdated tank cars remain in use.

“Many communities and individuals draw drinking water from Lake Champlain and its tributaries.  As you know, it takes just a few ounces of oil to contaminate thousands of gallons of clean water.  One rail tank car holds more than 30,000 gallons of oil.  Possible contamination of the Champlain Valley watershed and prime soils directly puts at risk the rich agricultural history and economic engine that the region’s farming community represents.”

The Canadian Pacific Rail Road line from Montreal to Albany is carrying several hundred cars per day of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota and southern Canada into the Port of Albany for distribution to refineries.  CP Rail is doing so on aging rails and ties that are showing signs of wear and instability.  The rails along the lake are reported to be in such poor condition that Amtrak trains move very slowly. 

These tracks run through the middle of more than a dozen small communities in the Champlain Valley, passing homes and schools, campgrounds and playgrounds, historic sites and municipal offices, warehouses and mills where hundreds of people congregate each day.  All of the rail crossings in Adirondack Park communities intersect at grade level with local roads.  Almost none have crossing gates or warning signals to mark the approach of an oncoming train.

“Most people who live, work and play along these tracks were unaware until very recently that they had been singled out to take on a major risk on behalf of CP Rail and the oil companies who are paying it to ship the explosive Bakken crude,” Fish explained.  “They were given no choice in the matter and will reap no financial reward for this risk.

“In many places, the tracks run within just a few feet of the Lake Champlain’s shore, with rocky cliffs uphill and nothing separating the trains from the lake.  An accident in such a location would be nearly impossible to contain or clean-up.  Rescue efforts would be extremely difficult. 

CP Rail continues to host the DOT-111 rail cars that have been proven to be prone to leaks and explosions if they derail.  Derailments have been relatively common in Upstate New York.

Despite being asked by local elected officials, CP Rail has refused to share its emergency response plans with the public.  Emergency management officers, fire chiefs, rescue squads and other first responders remain in the dark about what to expect if the oil cars are involved in an accident.  State fish and wildlife officials have been left guessing what to do as well. 

“Stunningly, there is talk of expanding this public safety and environmental hazard by bringing Canadian tar sands oil into the region, in addition to the Bakken crude oil currently being transported through our region,” Fish said. “Federal action is needed before there is an accident.”

The Adirondack Council is privately funded, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of New York’s six-million-acre Adirondack Park.  The Council envisions an Adirondack Park comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by working forests and farms, and vibrant rural communities.  The Council carries out its mission and vision through research, education, advocacy and legal action.  Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

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