Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled the 8th proposal of the 2018 State of the State: New York will take legal action to halt a rail operator's plan to store thousands of railcars indefinitely in the Adirondack Park. The move represents the first step in a series of aggressive actions the state is taking to stop Iowa Pacific Co.'s outrageous plan in its tracks, and preserve New York's constitutionally-protected land.
"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," Governor 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 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is filing a petition for waivers and exemptions with the federal Surface Transportation Board to support the state's filing of an application for 'adverse abandonment.' In addition, the state is calling on Berkshire Hathaway, owners of the Union Tank Car Company, which owns the cars being stored, to stop this plan and protect one of the nation's greatest natural treasures.
In the letter, DEC demands that Saratoga & North Creek Railway immediately cease and desist receiving and storing any future railcars on the Tahawus Branch, and remove existing stored railcars, until a decision regarding this application is rendered by the federal Surface Transportation Board. All state-owned land within the Adirondack Park is Forest Preserve land and is kept protected in accordance with the will of the New York's voters since 1894 pursuant to the state's constitution. It is to be kept "forever wild," in recognition of the importance of preserving and protecting its irreplaceable aesthetic beauty and natural resources.
"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. "Through Governor Cuomo's leadership, we continue to make significant progress in protecting and managing the Adirondack Park from various environmental threats, and we cannot allow the storage of these railcars to set back our efforts."
The Tahawus rail track runs through the Adirondack Park from North Creek in Warren County along the Upper Hudson and Boreas rivers, to the Tahawus Mine in Essex County. 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.
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.