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Albany Oil Spill Rattles Officials

Rail tracks
Tipiac-Alain Caraco/Wikimedia Commons

A relatively minor oil spill at the Port of Albany has apparently set the scene for a summer of scrutiny, with county officials putting crude-by-rail transporter Global Partners LLC under the microscope.

Albany's river port has emerged as a major hub for rail and barge shipments of crude oil. A series of incidents involving rail cars moving crude oil internationally has prompted concerns about spills and fires from some residents and environmental groups.  A weekend spill underscores those concerns.

Pete Constantakes is a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:    "Sunday afternoon DEC was alerted to a spill at the Port of Albany and sent a spill responder to the scene to check out the situation. An estimated hundred gallons of crude oil had been released from a stationary rail car. The majority of the material sprayed into an asphalt secondary containment area, so it did not affect the ground or the river."

Albany First Ward Common Council member Dorcey Applyrs thinks more such incidents have happened than officials have admitted to.   "We cannot continue to play Russian roulette with our residents. That has to stop. We cannot continue to play Russian roulette with our river. That has to stop."

Applyrs says she doesn't appreciate the "downplaying" on the part of Global Partners regarding the incident. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy doesn't like the way Global communicated the spill to authorities.  "They're not telling us if it was a DOT 111 or what type of train it was. They never called the Albany Fire Department. They never activated the 911 system. And I can tell ya being a former firefighter that was stationed at that house, that responded to the port, we would go down there for the littlest thing."

McCoy is bothered by a port official's stance (as reported by the Times Union) that the spill was so small that city firefighters did not need to respond.  McCoy has been critical of Global's local operations and expansion plans. In March, his administration issued a moratorium on expansion at the port until all health and safety impacts are evaluated. 

McCoy doubts explanations offered by Global and port officials.   "Something went wrong. To me, it's another cover-up at Global. They're not trying to be a good partner. They should have called the Sheriff's department, they should have called the County Executive's office. We should have went down there, made sure there was nothing wrong..."

The Times Union quotes Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple calling it "unbelievable" that his office, which oversees emergency management for the county, was not alerted.  The newspaper reports a Canadian Pacific railroad spokesman explaining the incident did not involve a moving train and that only a small amount — five gallons or less — spilled onto the railroad's property.

The DEC does not expect any long-term repercussions from the spill. Dorcey Applyrs says the danger to the local community is apparent:   "Until we get to the point where we can acknowledge what's happening, acknowledge the risk that it holds to our city, whether it's residents or our vital resources like the Hudson River, we will continue to have problems. These are all, in my opinion, warning signs. And at some point we need to ask, because the next time it may not be "a small spill" or "blocks away from the river."

Global Partners LLC did not return a call for comment.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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