Press Releases

Seggos, James Banish Oil Tankers from Tahawas Rail Line

Voluntary Abandonment Pact Allows New York Residents to Take Back, Decide Fate of Line

NEWCOMB, N.Y. -- The Adirondack Council offered its thanks and congratulations to the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC), its Attorney General (AG) and Iowa Pacific Holdings (IPH) for their agreement that will prevent the return of junked oil tank cars to the remote Tahawus Rail Line through protected public forests and wild rivers of the Adirondack Park.

“DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos and Attorney General Letitia James won a great victory for the ‘forever wild’ Adirondack Forest Preserve and the citizens of Essex, Hamilton and Warren counties,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “Together, all New Yorkers can reclaim our common heritage and take back the public lands that were seized by the federal government so long ago.  Together, we can decide which uses should be made of this beautiful corridor in the future. Together, we are freed from fear that filthy oil train tank cars will ever return to the shores of the scenic Upper Hudson River.”

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded environmental organization that hired Washington, DC attorneys in 2017 to help New York’s legal experts sort through arcane federal rail road laws and regulations to secure a solution.

Janeway said Seggos and James did an excellent job of working with the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) to secure this voluntary agreement with Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago. IPH owns the right to operate trains on the Tahawus Rail Line.  IPH agreed to voluntarily abandon the line, allowing New York to reclaim the corridor. 

Once the agreement is final, the state can work through an open transparent process with local officials and citizens to consider all alternatives and determine the best use for the corridor, he explained.

IPH and James wrote a joint letter to the Surface Transportation Board on October 18 notifying the board of the agreement. Asst. Attorney General Joshua Tallent handled the case and signed the letter on behalf of the Attorney General. the DEC and the AG had been seeking “adverse abandonment” of the line in an effort to prevent a repeat of its use as an oil train junkyard. The agreement is expected to settle the case.

Janeway said the Adirondack Council has no objection to future rail road use being preserved through “rail banking” of the corridor, through 2063 when the federal government’s permission to use the line was set to expire. 

In its letter to the STB, Iowa Pacific noted that it had no intention of using the line in the future. The line hasn’t hosted commercial railroad freight since the 1980s. Human-powered rail bikes have been used for guided scenic tours on the line in recent years. 

The Tahawus Rail line is a 30-mile section of the Saratoga & North Creek Railroad, which connects Saratoga Springs to the Adirondack Park communities of Corinth, North Creek and Newcomb. The 9,300-squre-mile park is roughly half public lands and half private land, with 130 tiny, rural communities. In the 1700s and 1800s, mining and logging were the mainstays of the economy. Today tourism is king.

The Tahawus Rail Line runs from the quiet ski town of North Creek, home to state-run Gore Mountain Ski Center, in Warren County, through eastern Hamilton County and into southern Essex County. It terminates near the source of the Hudson River in iron-mining ghost town of Tahawus, an abandoned hamlet in the Town of Newcomb.

The Tahawus Rail Line was built in the early 1940s by the federal government, which also reopened the defunct iron mines in Tahawus. It was removing ilmenite, a basic ingredient in the manufacture of titanium for war ships and airplanes. Ironically, the briefly successful iron mines had been abandoned in the late 1800s because the abundant ilmenite was an impurity they could not eliminate from the iron.

Complicating matters for conservationists, the route chosen by the federal government crossed lands owned by the state. State-owned Adirondack forests are protected under the NYS Constitution and “must forever be kept as wild forest lands.”

However, the state was not interested in disputing constitutional or land-use issues with the federal government during World War II, so the legal status of the line remained unsettled. Starting in the 1970s, parts of the line were incorporated into the forest lands protected from development and vehicular traffic under the Wild, Scenic and Recreational Rivers Act.

IPH had been operating tourist trains on the southern section of the Saratoga & North Creek RR, but reported poor sales. It later failed to meet its financial obligations to Warren County, which owns a portion of the line. After promising Warren County that it would never use the line as an oil train junkyard, IPH parked dozens of vandalized, potentially leaky, obsolete oil tankers on the Tahawus Line.

Most of the oil tankers were owned by Berkshire-Hathaway and its oil company subsidiaries. After learning that his cars had been dumped in the Adirondacks, Berkshire-Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett ordered IPH to remove them.

“This has been a wild adventure in legal research, trips to Washington, long talks with legal experts, pleasant correspondence with Warren Buffett – who acted like a real gentleman during all of this -- and local officials seeking the right solution to this dispute,” Janeway said. “It really could not have come out better than it has. We hope the STB grants final approval soon. We look forward to working with all parties to plan a bright, new future for the corridor that is good for the environment and good for communities.”

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, and vibrant communities. 

The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations. Adirondack Council advocates live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan, Director of Communications, 518-441-1340

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019

 

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