Thursday, October 8, 2015

Iowa Pacific: No Plans Now To Store Oil Cars

rail car 2Iowa Pacific is nearing an agreement to move waste rock from an old mine in Tahawus and has no immediate plans to store empty oil railcars on its tracks, according to Ed Ellis, the railroad’s president.

Ellis touched off a controversy in late July when he told a committee of Warren County supervisors that Iowa Pacific was exploring the possibility of storing hundreds of oil tankers on its tracks, which run twenty-nine miles from North Creek to Tahawus.

At the time, Ellis said revenue from the storage would help keep afloat Iowa Pacific’s tourist train, the Saratoga & North Creek Railway, which operates on leased tracks south of North Creek.

In an email to journalists this week, Ellis said the railroad now hopes to move rock from the mine—something it hoped to do when it purchased the tracks in 2011. Such an operation presumably would prevent the storage of oil tankers.

“As you probably know our intent has always been to move aggregate [stone] from the Tahawus mine to New York City, and I’m happy to say that Saratoga and North Creek Railway is now close to an agreement with all parties to do that,” Ellis wrote.

The announcement pleased environmentalists who complained that Iowa Pacific would in effect turn the rail corridor into a junkyard. About half of the corridor runs through public Forest Preserve.

“The Adirondack Park should not be a waste dump for any outside garbage,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks. “This proposal ran contrary to everything the Adirondack Park is all about. Hopefully we’re done with this bad idea.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation had said little about the plan other than to assert that it was concerned. In light of Ellis’s announcement, however, DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino issued the following statement: “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 the railway to do. We look forward to reviewing the railway’s amended proposal.”

Adirondack Wild and the Adirondack Council both issued statements Thursday praising the state for facilitating the deal.

“The state made it clear that this [oil-car] proposal was not consistent with the governor’s pro-wilderness, pro-community vision for the Adirondacks,” Willie Janeway, the council’s executive director, told Adirondack Almanack.

The details of the deal and the state’s role remain unclear. Severino declined to comment beyond the department’s formal statement except to say the state has had “multiple discussions” with the railroad.

Ellis told the Glens Falls Post-Star this week that he had received no offers to store oil cars. “While we were considered, we never got a proposal,” Ellis told the paper. “We would rather move the rock anyway.”

In his email to journalists, Ellis said Iowa-Pacific is in talks to temporarily store covered hopper cars on the tracks. “It keeps coming up, so let me be clear that this time, there are no plans to store any oil tank cars along the line,” he wrote.

It is unclear whether Iowa Pacific would store oil cars on the line in the future if the opportunity arose.

In his presentation to the Warren County supervisors, Ellis asserted that the tanker cars would contain only a few gallons of oil and would pose “virtually no risk” to the environment. The oil cars, known as DOT-111s, are vulnerable to puncturing and explosions when full. Owners are taking them out of service until they are either modified to meet more stringent safety regulations or sold for scrap.

Iowa Pacific leases the tracks from Saratoga Springs to North Creek from Warren County and the town of Corinth. It owns an easement and the tracks on the corridor running north from North Creek to Tahawus on the edge of the High Peaks Wilderness.

Photo by Peter Bauer: Abandoned railcars on the Tahawus line.

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

10 Responses

  1. Boreasfisher says:

    Good on you pesky enviro groups for making such a big noise about this absurd use of forest preserve right of way.

    • Kent says:

      Not in an enviro group but yes, storage is absurd.

      Thinking this is a delaying tactic. Keep your eyes open!

  2. Bruce says:

    Which begs the question…how long will the waste rock last, and what will Iowa-Pacific do after that to make that track continue paying?

    • Curt Austin says:

      It’s easy to estimate the amount of stone in the principle tailings pile, the one from which stone has been sold for many years by the truckload. Two-thirds of the original pile has already been removed over the past 30 years, so there’s only 15 years left by truck transportation.

      I did calculations based on an aerial view for the base area and a side view for the height. With a few reasonable assumptions about train capacity and operations, I worked out the pile would be gone after 2.5 years of serious railroad operations.

      This would probably be possible only with a $5M track upgrade, which DOT may all too happily provide in their zeal to maintain railways (e.g., the Newton Falls railroad to serve a paper mill that has been closed and dismantled.) Obviously, that would not be a wise investment for 2.5 years of operation.

      The discrepancy with Iowa Pacific’s assertions about the amount of stone available apparently comes from considering all the other piles of rock at the site. That rock is much less valuable since it requires crushing.

      • Boreal says:

        Just curious – would it be more cost effective to crush it on site to get more $$ for it per load? I’m assuming it isn’t…

        • Curt Austin says:

          I think the existing pile of crushed stone is barely valuable enough to ship long distances, if at all. NL’s Gordon Medema would have done it if he could, and he’s a clever guy. “It does not meet any State specification for stone,” he told me.

          Crushing the larger rock on-site would require electricity. The big power line to North Hudson was turned off many years ago, and completely dismantled five years ago. The modest needs of the site are currently met by diesel generators.

          • Bruce says:


            Just for kicks I started looking at diesel powered crushers online. There are many self-powered, mobile crushers in every size, most on tracks. So it is possible to crush on site without additional electricity. I guess that makes fuel and rental cost the main considerations.

  3. Kent says:

    Not opposed to continuing rail operations in the ADKs. Am opposed to using those rights-of-way as dumps/salvage yards!

    Thinking this is just a delaying tactic. Keep your eyes open!

  4. Jim McCulley says:

    Phil, what happened to the keg stand picture taken in the high peaks? Why did you pull it down? John Warren afraid the truth is going to get out about his audience? The true destroyer of the forest preserve? Come on John we need you to save the Adirondacks It’s your life calling. Phony’s.

    • John Warren says:

      Jim McCulley is referring to photos posted to the Facebook page of someone from Queens (who subsequently took them down).

      Either he doesn’t understand how Facebook works or he thinks that I am the ruler of all the Internet – I’m not sure which.

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