A major Adirondack environmental group called Monday for the state to step in and halt a plan to store hundreds of unused rail cars on a rail line owned by Saratoga & North Creek Railway north of North Creek.
The railway, though, rejected the call as “misguided rabble rousing” and said the state has no standing to challenge the plan.
“The cars that Saratoga and North Creek Railway plans on storing for its customers will be stored safely and with every due consideration for the environment,” said the company’s lawyer, David Michaud.
Protect the Adirondacks questioned Monday whether storage of cars on the line constituted a “new use” of the tracks that should trigger a review by Adirondack Park Agency, and whether it should be allowed in the state forest preserve.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Lake George-based Protect the Adirondacks, compared the situation to efforts to site a landfill in Essex County for out-of-region waste in the 1990s, which were rebuffed by the state.
He said in a news release that the cars the rail company has been storing on the line in recent years have been vandalized and had peeling paint, showing that there will be an environmental impact to leaving train cars parked in the forest preserve. The organization also released photos of the dozen or so hopper cars and former passenger cars that have been stored north of North Creek.
“Quite simply, the Adirondack Park is a region that should not be used for storing waste,” Bauer said in a news release. “There has been a longstanding principle, longer than 30 years, that the Adirondack Park should not be used for storing or disposing of waste from outside the Adirondack Park.”
Bauer questioned whether using the line for rail car storage would “constitute a new commercial activity that should be subject to local control” and should be reviewed by the APA.
“We’ve seen many cases over the years where small businesses in the Adirondacks had to secure new commercial use permits from the APA in order to utilize an existing building. We believe that the proposal of Iowa Pacific to utilize the Sanford Lake Rail Line constitutes a new commercial use,” he wrote.
The APA did not respond to phone and email requests for comment on the issue Monday.
Michaud said Bauer’s analysis about a change of use “does not appear to be based in fact or law,” though.
“The placement of the cars into storage will be done in full compliance with the provisions of the license and operating agreement between the railway, the town, and the county. None of the cars that are being stored will contain hazardous materials,” Michaud said in a prepared statement. “None of the cars will impinge on the railway’s ability to provide other freight services.”
Bauer added that the plan to store cars on the line seems to show that plans to remove stone from the former Tahawus mines were not going to happen and the tourist rail line was “failing.”
“It’s time to take a hard look at getting out of the railway contracts in Warren and Saratoga counties, purchasing the Sanford Lake Rail Line and converting the rail line to some kind of multi-use pedestrian trail. This would be a true community-to-community trail from Saratoga Springs to Newcomb, a European style countryside walking trail, a bike trail, a totally accessible trail, a cross country ski and snowmobile trail and it already has both a wide, defined corridor and connects hamlet areas.
“The dividends for the region and for communities along the rail line would be far greater with a community-to-community pedestrian trail than with a dying railroad whose only viable revenue stream comes from trashing the Adirondacks,” Bauer wrote.
Railway General Manager Justin Gonyo told Warren County supervisors last week the train cars were on their way to the company’s line at that point, and should start arriving this week. He would only say that “hundreds” were expected, and it was not known what they had been hauling or how long they would be stored.
Warren County owns the rail line the company operates on in Warren County. The town of Corinth owns it in Saratoga County. Saratoga & North Creek has operated a tourist train since taking over service on the line in 2011, but it has struggled to develop freight traffic and that has led to money problems.
The company drew fire from Protect the Adirondacks and other Adirondack groups in August 2015 when it proposed storing empty oil tank cars on the same line and it later withdrew the proposal. Saratoga & North Creek then wanted to put empty tankers in Corinth, but that idea died amid backlash as well.