Back in December, we suggested the Saratoga & North Creek Railway was holding the Forest Preserve hostage by demanding the state buy the freight easement on the line it owns from North Creek to Tahawus, in the heart of the Adirondack High Peaks.
Buy the line, the railway was saying, or it would continue to store empty tanker cars on it, a practice that was giving fits to environmentalists and local municipalities alike. No one liked the idea of allowing the storage of old cars that had carried possibly toxic chemicals in one of the most beautiful and pristine wilderness areas in the country.
But political pressure and public opinion has been forcing the ouster of the tanker cars without any purchase of the line. Companies that own the cars have said they want them pulled out of the Adirondack Park.
Frustrated railway officials have now turned to holding their own business hostage, saying the company will shut down unless the state pays $5 million for the Tahawus line.
The railway runs tourist excursion trains along its line from Saratoga to North Creek, mainly in the summer, although it has run snow train excursions off and on in the winter. The business hasn’t gone well, and the company now owes Warren County more than $28,000.
The county renewed the railway’s contract in 2016 for five years, a move we advised against. The question is, what is the best use of the line? We advocated in the past for conversion of the line into a rail trail — an accessible path into a beautiful area that would be popular with bikers and hikers.
But the vision of a rail-trail has been overshadowed by the recent sale of the old Tahawus titanium and iron mines to Paul Mitchell, who owns logging and stone businesses in Tupper Lake. Mitchell intends to ship out by rail tons of stone already mined from the property and sell it to construction companies.
Mitchell’s purchase of the mining property is one of the few pieces of good news regarding Tahawus and the rail line we’ve heard over the past decade. Here is a local entrepreneur, with proven success in business, who intends to launch a new business in a region desperately short of jobs. The work is essentially a cleanup of stone that was left behind and is compatible with the wilderness setting.
As we said before, the state should talk with Iowa Pacific, parent company of Saratoga & North Creek Railway, about buying the Tahawus line. We’re guessing that the $5 million price demanded by Ed Ellis, president of Iowa Pacific, is negotiable.
Our state representatives could be helpful in facilitating such talks. Our state senator, Betty Little, has been an effective advocate on other Adirondack issues, and she could be on this one, too.
We can’t expect Warren County to come up with millions of dollars for the rail line. But the state has spent many millions of dollars in recent years on land in the Adirondack Park that has been added to the Forest Preserve. This is a chance for the state to deliver on the often-repeated promise to also invest in the region’s economy.
We’re not sure the stone-selling operation will be successful. But if a day comes when no one has a use for the Tahawus line, then the rail-trail proposal could be revisited, with the state partnering with Warren County to create a long, glorious trail.
One way or another, this line is a valuable asset with viable uses beyond serving as a dumping ground for old tanker cars.