U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has come out in favor of reopening the rail line between North Creek and Tahawus, which some environmentalists argue would violate the forever-wild clause of the state constitution.
In a letter to the Federal Surface Transportation Board, Schumer said the line would provide “much needed economic development and jobs in the Adirondack Region.”
Iowa Pacific Holdings bought the line last year from NL Industries and wants to use it to transport waste rock from the closed NL mine in Tahawus at the foot of the High Peaks.
The green group Protect the Adirondacks contends that reopening the line would violate Article 14 in the state constitution, which decrees that the public Forest Preserve “shall be forever kept as wild forest lands.” Fourteen miles of the tracks run through the Preserve.
Iowa Pacific has applied to the Federal Surface Transportation Board for common-carrier status, which would give it the flexibility to carry passengers and service other businesses along the route. However, the rail company insists it doesn’t need the board’s permission to transport the waste rock.
As reported in the May/June issue of the Adirondack Explorer, both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation also support the application for common-carrier status. The Explorer also ran a debate on the issue. Links to the debate and the news article be found at the end of this post.
Following is the text of Schumer’s letter to Daniel E. Elliott III, the board’s chairman:
“I write in support of Iowa Pacific Holdings’ reapplication to the Federal Surface Transportation Board to receive common carrier status on the Tahawus line of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway between North Creek and Newcomb, New York. This project will support much needed economic development and jobs in the Adirondack Region of New York.
“Recommissioning the Tahawus Line represents an opportunity to support the transportation needs of multiple businesses along the railway while reducing unwanted truck traffic through New York’s Adirondack Park. The decrease in truck traffic would reduce dust and pollution within one of our states great natural treasures. Reconstruction of the rail line and ensuing economic activity from its completion will generate economic activity that will benefit the region for years to come.
“I urge you to quickly move ahead with the approval process for this critical infrastructure project, as the application has garnered significant local support. I thank you for your attention to this request. Please don’t hesitate to contact my office with any questions.”
In a news release accompanying the letter, Schumer says Iowa Pacific would employ fifteen to twenty people during reconstruction of the rail line. Once the line reopens, the company expects to haul 100 million tons of waste rock a year.
Charles Morrison, a retired DEC official and member of the board of Protect the Adirondacks, said Schumer’s letter–as well as a similar one sent by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand–are the result of an intense lobbying campaign waged by Iowa Pacific.
“As public officials serving the people of the State of New York, both Senator Shumer and Senator Gillibrand are sworn to uphold the state constitution,” Morrison wrote us in an e-mail. “It is certain that if they had been given the full facts about this matter … about how the State went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court about the Tahawus rail spur in the 1940s in defense of the Forest Preserve and Article 14 of the State Consitution, they might have written a different letter, or none at all.”
I looked at the Tahawus Rail Debate article, and noticed that the aerial photo of the mine site looked wrong. I had to look at Google Earth to be sure, but the picture has been flipped horizontally. The view is from the south looking north, so Wallface should be to the left of the McIntyre Range.
Since I filed my original post, I received an e-mail from Charles Morrison, one of the board members of Protect (and the author of one side of the debate I linked to). I added a quote from the e-mail to my post, but for those interested, here is his entire response:
“Senator Shumer’s letter to the Surface Transportation Board (“Board”) is not unexpected. After all, Senator Gillibrand wrote to the Board in like manner some weeks ago. Their letters are the result of a relentless lobbying effort by Saratoga and North Creek Railway (“Saratoga”) and its parent company, Iowa Pacific Holding to pressure the Board into acceding to its wishes that the Board reverse its rejection of Saratoga’s exemption notice.
As public officials serving the People of the State of New York, both Senator Shumer and Senator Gillibrand are sworn to uphold the State constitution. It is certain that if they had been given the full facts about this matter – which obviously they did not receive from Saratoga – about how the State went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court about the Tahawus rail spur in the 1940s in defense of the Forest Preserve and Article 14 of the State Consitution, they might have written a different letter, or none at all.
Our Senators did not know, for example, that when the Board rejected Saratoga’s notice that they were exempt from filing a full application for common carrier status, the Board told Saratoga that, because the exemption process is only meant for short, uncontroversial proceedings, Saratoga would have to undertake a full application. Rather than do that, in a procedural forum where the Forest Preserve and Article 14 violation could be addressed, Saratoga began its expensive lobbying campaign to pressure the Board into submission. Regardless, the Forest Preserve issue will remain intact concerning the 13-miles of State land that the rails are illegally occupying on right-of-way easements that have been abandoned for 22 years with the result that the easements terminated and reverted to the State and private owners of the underlying property long ago. The rails are illegally occupying Forest Preserve land that belongs to the People of the State of New York. It’s time to get them off.”
Bill McGahay says
Phil, because you say so, both Senators are “off the hook” and their letters have no bearing or “weight”.