By Michael Virtanen
An economic analysis recently filed by the new owner of the long idled Tahawus titanium mine in Newcomb says shipping crushed stone from the tailings by rail isn’t feasible at current market prices.
That analysis further calls into question the future of the 30-mile rail line from North Creek to Tahawus, whose current owner has publicly offered to sell it for $4 million or less, saying it’s losing money.
Iowa Pacific Holdings was pressured to remove tanker cars it stored this winter on the tracks in the state Forest Preserve and said it now wants a buyer for the tracks. Some environmentalists instead want the line to become a rail trail for recreation.
A flight over the tracks in late April showed 24 tankers remained, said Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan. The company has promise municipal officials that the remaining cars will be gone soon, he said.
Paul Mitchell, owner of Mitchell Stone Products LLC in Tupper Lake, bought the old titanium and iron mine from NL Industries this year. For a decade prior, he had been trucking leftover stone from the mine under a contract with NL, which stopped mining at Tahawus in 1989.
Mitchell had been considering shipping the stone by train, something the railroad hoped would eventually bring it revenue.
“Although the potential for this type of venture appears promising the reality is that the logistics and cost of rail shipment from Tahawus is not economically feasible with the current market conditions,” according to the analysis filed March 15 with Mitchell’s application for mining reclamation at the Department of Environmental Conservation.
It accompanied the description of the project and the site’s history and geology by Continental Placer Inc., an Albany-based consulting firm that noted no significant environmental issues. Public comments are due by Friday.
The price for the crushed stone is $12 to $14 a ton in the upstate market, currently serviced by Mitchell’s trucks, it says. The New York City price is $28 to $30 but current Class 1 rail rates in the Northeast without material handling charges average 13 cents a mile per ton, or $31 a ton for the 240 miles to the city.
Mitchell, who bought almost 1,200 acres from NL Industries, told the Explorer there are tailings on about eight hundred acres. He has applied to the DEC for a new permit to screen, crush and remove an estimated 35,000 to 55,000 tons annually of leftover stone from 23 acres that have piles of rock near two old pit mines now filled with water.
The application estimates the operation could continue for 75 years.
Officials from Newcomb, Long Lake and Hamilton County wrote to DEC in support of the application, saying Mitchell’s operation, now temporarily idled with the application pending, provides jobs and a reliable source of stone for public works projects while removing waste stone.