State taking legal action to prevent railcar “dumping ground” in the Adirondacks

Photo Provided by Protect the Adirondacks
Iowa Pacific has brought nearly 100 out-of-service rail cars to the Adirondacks so far, according to an environmental group that supports the state’s legal actions announced by the governor on Tuesday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York is taking legal action to halt a rail operator’s plan to store thousands of train cars indefinitely in the Adirondack Park.

The move represents what the governor calls “the first step in a series of aggressive actions” to stop Iowa Pacific Company’s from storing old oil tanker cars in the state’s protected wilderness.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has filed a petition with the federal agency that regulates railroads, asking it to intervene in a plan to store old rail cars on little used tracks in the Adirondack Park. The DEC has also sent a letter dated December 19 directly to the company that owns the tracks, saying the state never agreed to allow a “commercial disposal site” in the Adirondacks.

“The Adirondack Park is home to some of the world’s most pristine forest lands, which powers its tourism economy, and we will not stand by and allow it to be used as a commercial dumping ground,” Gov. Cuomo said. “New York is prepared to exhaust all legal options to end this practice once and for all, and to help ensure the natural resources of the North Country are protected from blight and from harm.”

The DEC’s petition to the federal Surface Transportation Board seeks “adverse abandonment” by Iowa Pacific Holdings of Chicago, the company that currently owns and operates the tracks.

The state is also calling on Berkshire Hathaway — owners of the Union Tank Car Company, which owns the cars being stored — to immediately stop the storage plan.

Gov. Cuomo will announce these legal actions and the long-term plan to remove the railcars from the Adirondacks during his upcoming State of the State Address on January 3.

In its letter, DEC demands that Saratoga & North Creek Railway — which is owned by Iowa Pacific — immediately cease and desist receiving and storing any future railcars on the Tahawus Branch, and remove existing stored railcars, until a decision is made by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

“We urge the Surface Transportation Board to act quickly and allow New York to put a stop to this ill-conceived plan to mothball unused railcars in the middle of an American treasure,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos.

All state-owned land within the Adirondack Park is Forest Preserve land that is protected under the state’s Constitution since 1894.

Photo provided by Protect the Adirondacks

Earlier this fall, Iowa Pacific Holdings announced that it can no longer afford to maintain its railroad tracks, and that it plans to store up to 2,000 railcars owned by third parties on the spur for 10 years to generate revenues for track maintenance and rail operation costs.

Both Warren and Essex counties have passed resolutions objecting to this proposed storage. In spite of mounting opposition, railcars began to be delivered to the Tahawus Branch for storage in October of this year. DEC estimates there are already 75 cars stored on the Tahawus Branch.

The Tahawus Branch was originally intended to facilitate the transportation of freight from the former mine. In 2012, the Saratoga & North Creek Railway, a subsidiary of Iowa Pacific Holdings, was authorized by the Surface Transportation Board to become a common carrier for freight along this line.

DEC originally objected to Iowa Pacific’s application for the railway to resume these operations. However, Iowa Pacific emphasized the employment, environmental, and energy benefits that would be created through the operation of a freight line, and committed that in the event it sought to discontinue service, upon abandonment it would designate the railroad right of way for use as a trail under the terms and conditions of the National Trails Act.

In addition, Iowa Pacific agreed to allow the use of snowmobiles on its right of way during the winter. As a result, DEC withdrew its objections to Iowa Pacific’s application to use the Tahawus Branch for freight. However, Iowa Pacific’s operations have never satisfied these objectives nor fulfilled its commitment to provide for snowmobile use.

DEC’s initial support for a freight line on the Tahawus Branch through the Forest Preserve was intended to provide an environmentally sound alternative to truck traffic, foster economic development, as well as recreational opportunities for snowmobile use.

DEC never intended, nor agreed, that Iowa Pacific should turn this corridor in the pristine, forever wild wilderness of the Adirondack Park into a commercial disposal site.

“Iowa Pacific is in the process of creating a 30-mile junkyard through the central Adirondacks, including through vast stretches of the public Forest Preserve,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, which began photographing the train graveyard this fall and alerting the news media about Iowa Pacific’s plan.

“Protect the Adirondack congratulates Governor Cuomo and state agencies for their defense of the Forest Preserve and Adirondack Park and will do all that we can to support the petition before the Surface Transportation Board,” Bauer said.

The Adirondack Park is approximately 6 million acres of public and private land, nearly half of which belongs to the people of New York state. It is the largest parkland in the continental United States.