Iowa Pacific has been struggling to make money on its local rail line, but it may now have found the key to success: Hold tanker cars for ransom deep in the wilderness of the Adirondack High Peaks.
First, the company sought to make money just by storing the old tanker cars for companies that weren’t using them. About 80 tankers were brought north to the line owned by Saratoga & North Creek Railway (which is owned by Iowa Pacific) that runs from North Creek to Tahawus in the High Peaks.
After a lot of commotion, the owner of the tanker cars, Union Tank Car Co., agreed recently to remove them from the region. Environmental organizations and state leaders, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, had expressed their unhappiness with the arrangement.
“The Adirondack Park is home to some of the world’s most pristine forest lands, which powers its tourism economy, and we will not stand by and allow it to be used as a commercial dumping ground,” Cuomo said.
He has a point. The problem is, the railway is within its rights to store cars on the line, and its executives intend to keep doing it.
“SNCR will continue to store rail cars on its line and, in fact, has plans to bring in hundreds of more cars over the next few months,” said Iowa Pacific’s lawyer, David Michaud.
The only way that won’t happen, the railway’s executives say, is if the state buys the company’s freight easement on the line. The price tag would be several million dollars.
No word yet on how the railway wants the money delivered, but we’re guessing small, unmarked bills carried in a duffel bag and left on the porch of the Stony Creek Inn. Also, no cops.
This clever scheme is a twist on the usual kidnap-ransom scenario, since it’s the health of the forest that is at risk.
“Give us the cash if you want your forest back in one piece:” That’s the message the railway is delivering.
It seems wrong to give in to such a demand, but the state should consider paying. New York has spent many millions to acquire land in the Adirondack Park and add it to the Forest Preserve, where it can be kept “forever wild.” Part of the responsibility of owning this land is protecting it, and if state officials feel the rail line is a serious threat to the integrity of the wilderness, then buying the line is a solution.
It’s not as if the right of way would be worthless. It would make a great walking trail through a beautiful wilderness area, and the state wouldn’t have to spend money clearing or leveling it.
The state could meet the railway’s aggressive stance with aggression of its own by siccing the lawyers on Iowa Pacific. But legal action tends to be interminable and costly. It would be easier for everyone to skip directly to the settlement.
It has been hard for Iowa Pacific to figure out what to do with this line. Various freight plans have not worked. The company is probably in a mood to compromise, and we bet that if the state makes a reasonable offer, the railway will grab it.
Gov. Cuomo is right — the Adirondack wilderness is a jewel and using it as a rail-car dump is wrong. New York should buy the line.