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Proposal To Create Oil Train Task Force Withdrawn By Sponsor

WAMC/Pat Bradley

A proposal to create an oil train task force put before Plattsburgh City Councilors was withdrawn last night by its sponsor.

Two weeks ago, city councilors in Plattsburgh considered a resolution to create an oil train task force. The measure was tabled after several concerns were raised, including its clarity and process.

A revised version was on the agenda for consideration Thursday night. During the public comment period prior to consideration of the proposal, some city residents expressed their concerns about the frequency of the trains hauling Bakken oil through the city.

Retired teacher Gary Sargeant has researched the tankers and the volatile material, including Bakken oil, chlorine and acid, being transported. He is not only worried about the trains, but what he described as crumbling rail infrastructure.  “We’re witnessing mile long trains come right through the city of Plattsburgh. What is the condition of the railroad infrastructure? I used to sit on Lorraine Street and watch the rail track go up and down as trains passed the intersection because the ties were rotted. Governor Cuomo announced that Albany is now one of the biggest oil ports in the Northeast United States. That’s because of these oil trains. I think we at least deserve to know what cars are on these tracks. What they’ve done to the infrastructure to protect us from damage. Not only to us, but the lake. These go through our town every day. This to me is the biggest threat we’ve ever seen.  These are dangerous killers running through our city. We have to know what’s happening and what’s going through.”

Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley
Plattsburgh resident Gary Sargeant speaks to Common Council as councilors Mike Kelly and Rachelle Armstrong observe.

City resident and developer John Seaton asked councilors to formally request a quiet zone designation from the Federal Railroad Administration.  “We all have that romantic vision of the train whistle in the middle of the night. Once in a while it’s not too, too bad.  With these trains it’s gotten to the point of being unbearable. There’s seven crossing within a quarter-mile and the decibel level will drive you out of your skin. It’s drastically affected the quality of life. And there’s a mechanism that’s there for us to take.  Hundreds of individual communities have gotten quiet zone designation. I think Plattsburgh reaches the criteria to petition the feds for what is referred to as a quiet zone.”

When the resolution to create the task force came up, its sponsor immediately requested it be removed from consideration the table. “I would like to propose that we withdraw the resolution.”

Ward One Democrat Rachelle Armstrong explained that she, and others, are working on a better, broader idea.  “My original plan was to revise it. However, the idea of establishing a county-wide task force presented itself and I just felt like it was a better idea.”

Following the meeting, city resident Sargeant said he felt a county-wide resolution is a good idea.  “It does affect everyone. And from the disasters that have occurred with these trains, it’s not just people along the track who are at risk. It is our lake. It’s our rivers. It’s our people living along the track. It’s not cleanable. It’s explosive. And I just had this concern that there’s been a laid-back view of it. Talking is a good thing, but there needs to be some kind of action to protect us. This affects everybody and our natural environment and we need to take as much action as we can to make sure we’re safe and we have the assurances that things are being done to protect us.”

Meanwhile, in Albany this week, Mayor Kathy Sheehan and leaders of the Common Council appointed members of a Rail Safety Blue Ribbon Panel. The 15-member panel will evaluate rail safety in the capital city and issue recommendations for protecting people from potential harm from rail cars that carry hazardous materials. The issue has become a flashpoint between the mayor and county executive.

Calls to the county legislators that city councilor Armstrong is working with were not returned in time for broadcast.

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