Tank Cars Stored Near Opalescent And Boreas

Empty tank cars sit on tracks near an abandoned mine in Tahawus. Photo by Peter Bauer

Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks flew over the North Creek-Tahawus rail line on Thursday, giving us a better handle on how many and where railcars are being stored in the corridor.

In the past few weeks, Iowa Pacific has moved sixty-five empty tank cars into the Adirondacks, according to Bauer.

Bauer says the first two shipments filled up more than a half-mile of railroad siding along the Boreas River in Minerva, with forty-one tank cars.

Thursday’s flight revealed that twelve tank cars also are stored on a siding near the Opalescent River just south of the closed mine at Tahawus in the town of Newcomb.

Twelve other cars were moved into the Adirondacks this week. Bauer says these were left near the Barton Mines plant in North River and presumably are destined for Tahawus.

Protect the Adirondacks and other environmental groups contend that the storage of tank cars raises legal questions. This week, the green groups and the supervisors of Newcomb and Minerva wrote Governor Andrew Cuomo to urge him to take steps to shut down the storage operation.

“The Adirondack Park should not be used as a junkyard,” Bauer writes on Protect’s website today.

Tank cars are stored near the Boreas River. Photo by Peter Bauer

Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific, objects to the insinuation that the tank cars are junk. He says they are merely temporarily out of service. He said the railroad needs revenue from the storage fees to maintain the line and help keep its tourist train afloat.

Iowa Pacific owns the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, which runs a tourist train between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. S&NC leases tracks from the town of Corinth and Warren County.

Iowa Pacific owns a long-term easement on the thirty miles of tracks north of North Creek, which end at Tahawus. One legal question is whether Iowa Pacific will violate the terms of the easement if it clogs the main tracks with cars. Environmentalists say this would prevent the railroad from shipping material from the mine, which they say is the purpose of the easement.

Iowa Pacific has said it may store up to two thousand cars on the line. Bauer estimates that only a hundred or so will fit on the sidings. The rest would be on the main tracks.

“These railcars are being stored indefinitely and we run a great risk that the rail cars on the dead-end [Tahawus] line will end up as a 30-mile-long graveyard of decaying oil tankers,” he said on Protect’s website.

Bauer notes that the Boreas and Opalescent Rivers are protected under the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act. The green groups contend the railroad may be in violation of the act.

The Opalescent is designated a Wild River, the most protective classification under the rivers act. It flows from the slopes of Mount Marcy to the Hudson River. The rail line crosses it a few miles upstream from the confluence.  The state recently purchased the lower section of the Opalescent from the Adirondack Nature Conservancy. The Boreas River is designated a Scenic River.

Cuomo has said the storage of tank cars is “unsightly and out of character” for the Adirondack Park. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, the state Department of Transportation, and the Adirondack Park Agency are all looking into their legal options.

Ellis maintains that the state has no authority to intervene, saying the railroad is overseen by the federal government. He also says the tank cars–which can be used to store oil–have been emptied, cleaned, and inspected and pose no risk to the environment. What’s more, he says they are out of sight.

Ellis even composed a song defending the railroad’s right to store railcars.

Bauer said Iowa Pacific also has stored hopper cars on a siding in North Creek for more than a year. In all, he said, the company is storing eighty-seven railcars in the Adirondacks.


About Phil Brown

Phil Brown edited the Adirondack Explorer from 1999 until his retirement in 2018. He continues to explore the park and to write for the publication and website.

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