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NY DEC Extends Oil Train Public Comment Period

Sûreté du Québec

Crude-by-rail shipments have been increasing, and many communities along the Hudson River fear disaster. That has sparked meetings, discussions and government involvement.  Now,  the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has extended the public comment period for a fuel shipping company's plan to expand crude oil operations at the Port of Albany.

Albany has become a key hub for western crude oil destined for East Coast refineries.

Early this year, Waltham, Massachusetts-based Global Companies submitted a permit application to modify its Air Title V Facility permit to allow the company to heat petroleum products, including crude oil, residual fuel and biofuels at its facility at the Port of Albany. The public comment period set by the DEC was to September 30th. The agency cited "broad public and community interest" in its decision to tack on an additional 60 days to the comment period.

Albany South End resident and former common council member Dom Caloslaro has been a leading voice against the expansion.     "By turning it to the end of November now, it's almost a full year. The original public comment period was supposed to end around the third week of December of 2013. The longer the wait the more information comes out. Which is good. And the more problems that people are seeing around the country, with the oil trains going through the neighborhoods and things. So they wanna keep commenting on it, But eventually somebody's gotta make a decision here."
The so-called "oil trains" have been a hot potato topic among government leaders and environmental advocates. Increasing public awareness intensified as a series of derailments and explosions and "near-miss" situations involving freight trains carrying crude oil continued making headlines. That has frightened neighborhood residents and politicians alike.

The DOT-111 tank cars longtime rail safety advocate U.S. Senator Charles Schumer warned the public about during the summer of 2013 are still hauling crude.     "The DOT cars have explosive potential in the worse possible way."

Albany County Executive Dan  McCoy made national headlines when he imposed a moratorium on oil company expansion at the Port of Albany.       "I looked at it from a health and safety standpoint. We looked at our sanitation codes. We looked at our charter. And I said 'We're gonna do a moratorium.' And there's people that definitely didn't want me to make the noise. And I go, 'No, it’s about the people.'"

McCoy later suggested moving Albany residents housed near the tracks out of the neighborhood, contending the sights and smells of oil trains served as a constant reminder of danger.

Joel Tyner, Dutchess County Legislator for Rhinebeck and Clinton, says people demand more timely and detailed information to better protect their communities from potential accidents involving crude oil and other hazardous materials.      "There was recently a forum at Marist College with Riverkeeper and other groups - Sierra Club and Earthjustice have worked on this awhile - what Kate Hudson said to me really struck home. She basically pointed out how in April, Canada decided to ban the DOT-111 trains. That's what Canada decided to do in April. Now what in God's name, what on earth is the rationale for the United States not doing the same. There's absolutely no excuse whatsoever. These things are bomb trains. A ticking time-bomb waiting to go off up and down the river, many times a day."

Tyner says an oil spill from a barge on the Hudson River or from a train accident along the river-hugging tracks would devastate any community in its path.      "Tens of thousands if not hundreds of people would be directly affected due to having their drinking water poisoned.

There's a lot of things in this world, in this life, you can live without, but clean drinking water is one thing that we cannot live without."

Tyner adds Hudson Valley municipalities including Hyde Park and Rhinebeck rely on the river for their drinking water.

Global Partners LLC did not return a call for comment.

New York State submitted its comments to the U.S. Department of Transportation on proposed rules for the transport of hazardous materials, which were due today. 

Here is a link to a press release regarding the comment period extension: http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/98874.html

Additional content:

Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and ForestEthics have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation Sept. 11th for failing to respond to a legal petition filed on July 15, 2014 calling for an emergency order prohibiting the use of hazardous rail cars - known as DOT-111s - for shipping flammable Bakken crude oil. The Department of Transportation was required by law to respond to this petition. The groups say they have received no response...

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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