Environmental advocates are breathing a sigh of relief after an idea to store oil tanker cars in the Adirondack Park now looks like a non-starter.
In July, Ed Ellis, President and CEO of the Saratoga North Creek Railway, went before the Warren County Public Safety Committee to discuss his idea to store empty oil tanker cars in the Central Adirondacks. The 30-mile rail line is owned by Warren County.
At the time, Ellis addressed safety concerns related to the DOT-111 cars that are used to transport crude oil.
"In terms of the amount of residue that's in them, there might be, after a while, after the film drips down into the bottom of the car, there might a few gallons," said Ellis.
When asked about their safety, Ellis said "we're not storing them in towns, we're storing them up by the mine or sidings, so you'd have to hike in two-and-a-half miles to find one. And because that we've made sure that they're empty before they go up there, I think that the danger level is virtually non-existent."
Adirondack Wild was one of a handful of organizations concerned about the plan and sent a letter to Governor Cuomo urging caution. Partner Dave Gibson told WAMC there were several unknowns.
“You have an unspecified amount of oil in these cars. We don’t know, based on what he told Warren County, where the cars would be inspected, who would inspect them and how long the cars would remain on the tracks. So given all those uncertainties this proposal or this action, because the company says they don’t need any permission, poses a significant threat to human health and safety and is also a very severe eyesore and junkyard for old oil cars in the heart of the Adirondacks," said Gibson.
This week, it appeared the railroad was backing away from the plan.
In a statement emailed to WAMC, Ellis said there was never an actual "proposal" to store the tank cars.
He says, "I simply notified Warren County that there was interest in storing tank cars, and why it made sense that there would be interest. We have never received a single proposal to move in tank cars, and I simply wanted to let them know that if it came we would be open to it. But it never came...."
Ellis said the storage of cars could provide a "welcome revenue stream" that could support the reopening of the line. The company hopes to move material from the Tahawus mine in Newcomb down to New York City. He says the railway is "close to an agreement with all parties to do that."
Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he was pleased the company appears to be looking at options other than storage.
"All of the tracks that they had identified as possible storage locations were either a stone’s throw from the Hudson River, the Boreas River, or Vanderwhacker Brook," said Bauer. "Some of these rivers are some of the most beautiful stretches in the state. Some were along areas that are heavily used by the commercial rafting industry. I don't think anybody's expectation is that you take a rafting trip through the Hudson Gorge and you paddle out passing hundreds of dirty oil tanker cars."
The New York State Department Of Environmental Conservation did not respond to a request for comment Thursday, but a statement published in the Albany Times Union called the idea to store the oil cars "concerning."
The statement continues: "We are happy to hear that the Saratoga and North Creek Railway is working to address the state and local communities' concerns and is close to a deal to prevent oil tank car storage in the Adirondacks as we have been urging for the railway to do. We look forward to reviewing the railway's amended proposal."