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Mountain mine

A locked gate blocks a road leading to the Tahawus mine in Newcomb on July 3, 2012. A Tupper Lake contractor recently purchased the property and wants to move the stone that remains there. A Colorado company wants to buy the rail line that ends there to help with that plan.

A Colorado transportation company plans to buy the rail line from North Creek to Tahawus, and wants to operate on or potentially buy Warren County’s rail line as well.

Omnitrax is a Denver-based corporation that bills itself as “one of North America’s largest private railroad and transportation management companies with interests in railroads, terminals, ports and industrial real estate.”

Its interest in local rail lines was revealed in a proposal to Warren County legislators, where the company divulged it has agreed to buy the 29-mile line that ends at the former titanium mines in central Essex County. Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC owns the line but has ended its local operations and plans to sell it.

A proposal Omnitrax recently submitted to Warren County includes a passage that reads, “We have recently executed an exclusive letter of intent to purchase the assets of the rail line from North Creek to the Tahawus mine and expect to close on that transaction this fall.”

Much of the written proposal was blacked out by county officials, as it pertains to confidential contract negotiations. But Dave Arganbright, the company’s vice president for governmental affairs, said the company is attracted to the rail corridor by the possibility of moving the stone tailings that remain at the Tahawus mine.

The federal push to improve the nation’s infrastructure will require stone aggregate, and the material in Tahawus is attractive because of its “high quality” and because it is already out of the ground, he explained.

Iowa Pacific had also sought to move the stone from Tahawus, but Arganbright said his company will have a better shot at making it work.

“The real future for that line is a market for that rock,” he said.

He said no final purchase price has been set with Iowa Pacific. Omnitrax has also been negotiating with the town of Corinth, which owns the rail line between Saratoga Springs and Corinth. (Corinth Supervisor Richard Lucia has not returned multiple calls this week about railroad issues.)

Tourist trains are not an option, unless subsidized, Arganbright added.

“Trying to make a profit on it just isn’t realistic in today’s terms,” Arganbright said of a tourist train operation.

Warren County leaders plan to issue requests for proposals for companies wishing to lease or buy the rail line, and no decision has been made as to what to do in light of Iowa Pacific’s decision to halt the Saratoga & North Creek Railway locally.

The Omnitrax proposal to buy Warren County’s section of the railroad line is already drawing some pushback from county supervisors who don’t think the county should be exploring the idea.

The county board has heard from companies that want to both lease and buy the county-owned stretch of rail line between Hadley and North Creek.

Details of the proposals had not been made public until Friday, when documents were released about Omnitrax’s interest in the 40-mile line owned by Warren County.

Three county supervisors spoke out against the idea of a sale at Friday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Johnsburg Supervisor Andrea Hogan, in whose town the North Creek rail station is located, called exploring the sale idea “premature” in light of a state effort to have the stretch of northern rail line considered abandoned. She asked the board to “slow the process down.”

Glens Falls 2nd Ward Supervisor Peter McDevitt asked that the county not seek a deal for purchase of the line, saying a sale could result in the new owner using the line for questionable purposes, such as storage of hazardous materials.

He said municipally owned rail lines are being bought around the country, and it is a concerning trend to some.

“This occurring nationally and is working with mixed results,” McDevitt said.

Claudia Braymer, Glens Falls 3rd Ward supervisor, also cautioned about selling the rail line.

“I think we need to be very careful,” she said. “I do not support a sale in any way. It’s like selling off a road. You would never sell off a road.”

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reporter - crimes & courts, public safety and Warren County government

Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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