A rail company that wants to store used oil-tanker cars on tracks in the Adirondack Park is threatening to press charges against the executive director of Protect the Adirondacks if he returns to the rail corridor — even though the corridor runs through publicly owned Forest Preserve.
Iowa Pacific Holdings, which is based in Chicago, sent a letter to Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, warning him to stay out of the corridor after Bauer and Brian Mann, a reporter for North Country Public Radio, hiked a section of the tracks and posted photos of old railcars.
“Should you fail to stay off of our property, we will pursue all remedies available at law, including seeking to have criminal charges brought against you for unlawful trespass,” David Michaud, Iowa Pacific’s attorney, wrote Bauer in a letter dated September 10. He emailed a copy of the letter to a state trooper. Mann was not sent a letter.
Protect’s attorney, John Caffry, wrote back (cc’ing the trooper) asserting that members of the public have the right to walk in the part of the corridor that lies in the state-owned Forest Preserve as long as they don’t interfere with rail operations.
“Given that there is currently little or no rail traffic on that portion of your railroad, that there has not been any for decades, and that it is unlikely that there will be any in the future, it is extremely improbable that such unreasonable interference will occur,” Caffry wrote.
In an interview with Adirondack Almanack, Caffry said Iowa Pacific owns an easement in the corridor, but the public owns the Forest Preserve it crosses.
“If you hold an easement, that does not give you the right to exclude the owner of the property,” Caffry said. “You get to use the property; you don’t get exclusive use of it.”
In an email to the Almanack, Michaud responded to Caffry’s letter thus: “I agree that that neither Mr. Bauer nor the public at large can unreasonably interfere with our rights as the owner of the easement. I don’t agree, however, that rail traffic is the only controlling benchmark for unreasonable interference with railroad operations.”
Michaud said the primary intent of the letter was to put Bauer on notice that he has no right to walk within the corridor.
Bauer and Brian Mann walked the stretch in question in early September while Mann was doing a story on Iowa Pacific’s controversial proposal to store oil cars on the line.
In an interview with the Almanack, Mann said he does not recall seeing no-trespassing signs along the tracks, but he did see evidence that the tracks get a lot of traffic from hikers and anglers. “I don’t think it’s posted, but if it is, people are using it regularly,” he said.
Bauer told the Almanack that he and Mann started on Northwoods Club Road and walked north on the tracks along the Boreas River. After a mile or so, they came upon a siding with old passenger cars. Bauer said the cars were “in poor condition,” with paint chips flaking off. Photos of the cars ran on both Protect’s and NCPR’s websites.
This summer, Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis told Warren County’s Public Works Committee that the company planned to store empty oil cars on the line, which runs from North Creek to an old mine near Tahawus. Nearly half of the 29-mile corridor is in the Forest Preserve.
Iowa Pacific has not publicized details of its proposal, and Ellis has not returned repeated phone calls. Michaud, however, said the railroad is talking to potential customers about storing a variety of railcars–not just oil tankers–on the line. These might include hoppers and flatcars.
“Unfortunately, our intent has been misconstrued by people like Peter Bauer who seem to want to fear monger against us rather than get the facts straight,” Michaud said.
Iowa Pacific owns the Saratoga & North Creek Railway, which runs tourist trains between Saratoga Springs and North Creek on tracks it leases from Warren County and the town of Corinth. It says revenue from storing oil cars will help keep the tourist train afloat.
The rail corridor north of North Creek was created during World War II, when the federal government wanted to transport titanium from the mine at Tahawus. Iowa Pacific bought the corridor’s easement several years ago from NL Industries (National Lead), which owns the now-closed mine.
State officials say they are looking into whether the state has the authority to prohibit or at least regulate the storage of oil cars along the tracks.
Ellis told the Warren County committee that the cars would not pose a threat to the environment, but critics contend that the company wants to turn the Adirondack Park into a junkyard.
The oil cars in question are known as DOT-111s, which have been involved in several disastrous accidents, including one in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that resulted in more than 40 deaths. Many owners of DOT-111s are taking them out of service until they can decide whether to refurbish them to meet new regulations or scrap them. This has opened up a market for storing the cars.
Bauer, who opposes Iowa Pacific’s plan, said the letter will not deter him from visiting the corridor in the future.
“Protect believes that the public has the right to use this corridor, and we will continue to undertake field visits that in no way interfere with railroad operations to monitor actions that threaten the Forest Preserve and rivers of the Adirondack Park,” he said in an email.
Michaud said the railroad is prepared to take legal action against Bauer. “If he wants to ignore our letter and try his luck, so be it. We will pursue all remedies available at law to ‘protect!’ our rights.”
NOTE: John Caffry is defending Phil Brown in a lawsuit brought by landowners who claim he trespassed when he paddled through their property on Shingle Shanty Brook.
Photos by Peter Bauer: old railcars at the siding.