WARREN COUNTY — The company that runs rail lines from Saratoga Springs north to Tahawus plans to store “hundreds” of train cars on tracks inside the Adirondack Park, sparking push-back from Warren County supervisors and environmental groups.
Saratoga & North Creek Railway plans to use part of its tracks north of North Creek to store train cars on behalf of a train car leasing company, the railway’s general superintendent Justin Gonyo told Warren County supervisors on Sept. 20. He said the storage agreement was an “open-ended contract” that would generate much-needed revenue for the railroad company.
The plan has made some people harken back to a similar push two years ago, which drew the ire of environmental groups and was ultimately shelved.
Warren County supervisors have opposed the plan, despite admitting that they may be limited in ways to stop it. Adirondack environmental groups are questioning whether storing rail cars within the park is an allowable use and calling on state officials to fight the plan.
“We think it is counter to everything the Adirondack Park is all about,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.
Bauer called on state agencies to review legal issues like whether the rail company’s plan would run afoul of a prohibition against dumping outside waste within the park. He also said if storing train cars was the only way the rail line could be economically viable maybe its use should be reconsidered entirely.
Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Benning DeLaMater in a statement Friday said the agency “will closely evaluate any proposal for the storage of railcars” but had not received any proposal from the rail company.
“Storing such cars in the Forest Preserve is concerning and may have environmental impacts that must be carefully analyzed,” the statement continued
David Michaud, general counsel for Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings, the rail line’s parent company, said the company was “trying to be good neighbors” but also making business decisions necessary to maintain the rail line.
“This a railroad operation and generally speaking the environmental entities (like the Adirondack Park Agency) … wouldn’t have jurisdiction over railroad operations,” Michaud said Friday. “With all due respect to other agencies, we don’t believe any permission is necessary.”
Michaud pointed out that the company was already using parts of its Adirondack tracks for rail car storage and said arguments that rail car storage constituted a new use or qualified as waste disposal has “no basis in fact or law.”
The Adirondack Council, however, points to unused passenger cars already stored north of North Creek as “an eyesore” and potential environmental hazard. When the rail company proposed a similar plan two years ago, the council developed legal arguments contending the state should assert regulatory authority over the storage plan.
“The scenic beauty of the Adirondack Forest Preserve and the success of the Adirondack Park as a tourism destination are threatened by this outrageous proposal,” council Executive Director William Janeway said in a release earlier this week.
On Thursday, a subcommittee of Warren County supervisors passed a resolution opposing the company’s train car storage plan; the resolution will go before the entire board next month.
But Supervisor Matt Simpson, who chairs the committee that was first notified of the rail company’s plans and opposes it, said the company was within its legal rights to use its tracks for storage and doesn’t appear to be violating its contract with Warren County.
“I have a concern with any business using the Adirondacks as a storage yard for an extended period of time for railroad tanker cars,” said Simpson, who is also town supervisor of Horicon in the park. “I don’t think it’s part of our vision of what the Adirondacks encompasses.”
Michaud, the rail company’s lawyer, said he didn’t know how many or what kind of cars would be stored on the company’s tracks or when they would start arriving. The storage cars would not contain hazardous material, he said.
Simpson said he was told by the rail company that the train cars were old tankers and were in Pennsylvania earlier this week on their way north.
The cars could potentially be stored until the end of the company’s current agreement with Warren County, which expires in 2021 and allows the rail company to transport freight across a section of tracks owned by the county, Michaud said.
“We are running a railroad, we employ people, we have obligations to pay the … county and unfortunately the passenger operations are not enough to sustain the costs of running the railroad,” he said. “This is a necessary source of revenue to maintain the track and meet contractual obligations.”