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County Exec Worries Next Rail Disaster Could Be Here

Following the derailment of a train heading for Selkirk last week, the Albany County Executive is renewing concerns about shipping crude through the city.

When Albany County Executive Dan McCoy heard the news that some 30 cars of a CSX freight train carrying hazardous materials derailed in a small Pennsylvania town, his thoughts turned to a similar event nearby.  "...that big pile-up in Selkirk, which um, I think it was last year or a year and a half ago, that 19-car pile-up and they told us it was just a 'little derailment.' Sheriff Apple and myself took a ride there in the morning and we're like 'Wow, this looks like a war zone,' and big holes in the ground. But there were some serious chemicals there that were dented that luckily did not spill. And we're readin' it and it says 'yeah, if this spills don't stand in it, everything will melt,' and I'm like ‘OK, I've had enough of this,' I started backin' away. I'm like 'so enough,' y'know but again, we're just dancin' with the devil. It's just a matter of time."

When McCoy learned the Pennsylvania train's destination was Selkirk, he shuddered to think it could also have been routed to the port of Albany, where it would have come whisker close to the Ezra Prentice apartments in the South End. For years the community has implored local, state and federal officials to take a stand against not only what some call "the bomb trains," but other quality-of-life issues impacting the neighborhood, including noises and noxious odors emanating form the trains as well as street pollution from the never-ending parade of tractor trailers hauling materials over busy South Pearl Street.

When New York State DEC Commissioner Bail Seggos stopped by in late July to announce that a South End Neighborhood Air Quality Initiative was finally operational, Albany Common Council President and mayoral candidate Carolyn McLaughlin lauded community involvement efforts by council members Dorcey Applyrs and Vivian Kornegay, who helped get the state involved in monitoring air pollution.  "Environmental justice, cooperation, lives matter, children matter, the health of the people in this community matters, and I hope that the people in this community will take the time. Learn what's goin' on behind us. Learn that this is something that is for your good. And people, you spoke, we heard, we listened and this is the action that's for your good. You have questions, ask about it. But this is to ensure that you have a future that ensures quality of life, not just in your future, but today. So that children, like my nephew who is siting here. This is about his future. This is about that senior citizen that lives here, who's concerned about their health matters. This is about that family who's raising their children here, and they want to make sure that they have a quality of life that is second to none."

Meantime, McCoy is pleading with the Trump administration to fill federal Department of Transportation vacancies, in the name of safety.    "We are still the third busiest hub in this nation, and some of the scary things that are going on right now that bother me is that in May of 2015 when they brought these new standards into place they said 'we're gonna put 'em inplace in 2021, 2023, 2025. What has happened is when you get a new administration takes over, what happens to these laws that aren't implemented yet? And the reason why I bring this up and one of the more crucial things that I have a problem with,  is the top job in D.C. that has been vacant since January of this year, Trump's administration has not filled this position, and the reason why I'm bringing this up, this is the position that implemented the timeframe that these new safety mechanisms are going to go into place. And the top job is the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, and like I said, it's been vacant since January of this year."

According to the Washington Post, CSX said at the Pennsylvania crash site, liquefied petroleum gas, molten sulfur and asphalt spilled from derailed tank cars and caught fire, along with some nonhazardous materials. Air samples prompted officials to decide Friday it was safe for 1,000 evacuated residents to ret

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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