DEC wins round in fight over tank cars

Tank cars
Tank cars on tracks near the Boreas River in the central Adirondacks. Photo by Brendan Wiltse

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has won a preliminary round in its fight to remove empty tank cars stored on a rail line in the central Adirondacks.

In a decision Tuesday, the federal Surface Transportation Board granted DEC’s request to waive certain requirements in the department’s forthcoming application to declare the rail line abandoned.

As a result, DEC can now move forward with its application.

The rail line runs thirty miles from North Creek to a closed mine in Tahawus. Saratoga & North Creek Railway acquired the tracks in 2011, with the intention of transporting rock tailings from the mine. However, that business never materialized. Last fall, the railroad starting storing empty tank cars on the line.

Ed Ellis, the president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, the railroad’s parent company, has said he wants to bring in up to two thousand cars. The railroad reportedly receives $4 per car per day in storage fees.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, environmental groups, and local officials have condemned the storage of rail cars as inappropriate in the Adirondack Park. Much of the rail corridor passes through forever-wild Forest Preserve. In the March/April issue of the Explorer, local officials discuss the possibility of turning the rail corridor into a recreational trail.

In December, DEC filed papers with the Surface Transportation Board, which adjudicates railroad disputes, in which the department says it intends to file an “adverse abandonment” application. Essentially, the state contends that S&NC is no longer operating a railroad and has no prospects of doing so.

Ellis has said that storing unused tank cars is part of the rail business—something railroads do throughout the country.

Generally, states have little authority to interfere with railroad operations. If the Surface Transportation Board declares the line abandoned, however, DEC would have jurisdiction to enforce its own laws and regulations.

Neil Woodworth, the executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, has said DEC might argue that the storage operation is an illegal junkyard or that it violates the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers System Act. Some of the cars are stored near the Boreas River; others are near the Opalescent River.

In the papers filed in December, DEC asked to be allowed to omit certain steps normally required in an application for adverse abandonment.

For example, the Surface Transportation Board usually requires applicants to notify shippers using the line of the abandonment application. In this case, there are no shippers.

The board also waived requirements to notify the governor (who is already aware of the proceedings) and labor organizations (there are no railroad employees who would be affected) and to post notices at stations and terminals along the line (there are none).

The board declined to waive a requirement that DEC publish a notice for three consecutive weeks in local newspapers.

Iowa Pacific did not reply to DEC’s request for the waivers.

Click here to download the decision from the Surface Transportation Board website.




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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