As the Adirondack Explorer has noted in stories, billionaire Warren Buffett’s company owns all or many of the empty tank cars stored on a rail line in the central Adirondacks. We have reached out several times to Marc D. Hamburg, a spokesman for Buffett’s company, for comment, but he has not returned any of our calls. Now the Adirondack Council is calling on Buffett to remove the tank cars and urging others to write him. Following is the council’s news release:
MINERVA, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council is calling on billionaire investor and philanthropist Warren Buffett to remove his oil tanker railroad cars from the fragile, protected public forests of New York’s Adirondack Park.
The conservation organization wants Buffett to remove his oil companies’ rail cars from the “forever wild” shoreline of the scenic Boreas River and the wild Upper Hudson River. Most of the tankers being stored there are owned by subsidiaries of Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway corporation. Buffett is the chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathway, Inc. of Omaha, Neb.
“We have urged Warren Buffett to remove the cars as soon as possible,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “We asked our members to make the same request. We invite anyone who cares about the Adirondacks to join us.”
Janeway said the organization isn’t angry with Buffett.
“He is known as a very smart and generous man,” Janeway said. “Maybe he doesn’t know that his companies are dumping their junked oil tankers in the world’s greatest park. We want to make sure he does know. The Adirondack Park’s ‘forever wild’ Forest Preserve is a national treasure. It is no place for a rail car junkyard.”
Janeway said he was hopeful that once Buffett knows about the oil tank cars, he will have them removed to a more appropriate location. Berkshire Hathaway subsidiaries Marmon Group, Union Tank Car Company, Procor and North American Tank Line own most of the cars.
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.
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. They 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) owns the line. The right to use it 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, 2,500 tankers would occupy 27.5 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 Resisting Junkyard
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. Its members began writing letters to Warren Buffett this week.
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 blew most of Lac Megantic, Que., off the map when they derailed in 2014. Fresh oil drips on the gravel between the rails leading to the Boreas River show that some of the tankers aren’t empty and may not be properly sealed.
“Please direct your company to remove all of the oil tankers from the Adirondack Park and abandon plans to store more tanker cars here,” said the Adirondack Council’s letter to Buffett. “Governor Cuomo and the affected counties in the Adirondacks oppose the storage of these oil tanker cars in the Park, and you should too.”
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.