NEWCOMB — Paul Mitchell has big plans for the former titanium and iron mines in the hamlet of Tahawus, and it could end the controversy over the storage of old tanker cars on the rail line to the mines.
The owner of Paul Mitchell Logging and Mitchell Stone Products of Tupper Lake recently bought the property, which is laden with millions of tons of stone that he says is waiting to be "recycled" and used in construction projects.
Removing more stone will rejuvenate the rail line from North Creek to Tahawus, which has been the site of a controversial rail car tanker storage program by its owner.
Mitchell has been removing the stone, known as "tailings," from the old mines for about a decade under a contract with NL Industries of Texas, the company that recently sold him the property. NL Industries ran the mines for decades before closing them in the late 1980s.
Mitchell has been trucking the material out, but he plans to work with Saratoga & North Creek Railway to take more out and ship it by rail, after he locates customers for what he calls "high-quality rock."
Saratoga & North Creek Railway's line runs from the mines to North Creek, where it connects with a line that runs to Saratoga Springs that is owned by Warren County and the town of Corinth.
But the company has been embroiled in controversy in recent months because it has used the rail line, which runs through Adirondack Forest Preserve, to store out-of-service tank cars. Storing the tank cars brings in revenue for the company but has angered environmental groups and state and local leaders.
Mitchell said the storage effort would be moot with freight cars moving up and down the line again.
"We look at the process of what we are trying to do as a reclamation project," Mitchell said. "There are an estimated 100 million tons of stone here. It's a huge resource. It's 100 percent recycled material."
It is cheaper for construction companies, doing projects such as rebuilding roads, rail lines and other work, to take stone that has already been mined instead of paying to have it dug up from the ground, he said.
He said NL Industries has already done extensive work to remove old buildings on the property, leaving behind just a couple that Mitchell has been using in his stone removal operation.
Newcomb Supervisor Robin DeLoria said Mitchell's purchase "has the potential to create significant economic benefit for Essex County, the Newcomb community and our region, and it makes good sense to use the Sanford Lake Branch railroad tracks to remove the aggregate."
DeLoria said Saratoga & North Creek Railway had planned to remove the stone when it bought the rail line in 2012.
"Removing the materials from Tahawus was the plan six years ago," he said. "Today the dynamics have improved and the potential benefits to the S&NC Rail Line supporting the Tahawus purchase could result in a plan creating jobs, encourage future economic development, strengthen the viability of the S&NC and address the real concerns of the environmental community."
"The controversy over the storage of the tanker cars is still a looming matter, yet efforts being made by Warren County, the owner of the mine site and representatives of the S&NC Rail Line to work out details to move the materials out of Tahawus seem positive," DeLoria said. "Such an agreement could end the continued storage of the tanker cars and expedite the environmental reclamation of the mining site, which is a goal we all share."
Justin Gonyo, Saratoga & North Creek Railway's general manager, said earlier this week that the company has been working with Mitchell to market the stone and prepare for rail shipments.
Mitchell would not disclose the purchase price of the property, but Essex County records show that properties where the mines were located that were owned by NL Industries sold to Mountain Endeavors LLC of Mitchell Lane, Tupper Lake, for $857,900 last month.
Mitchell said he isn't sure what he will do with the property, which sits just south of the High Peaks in the heart of the Adirondacks, when he has finished "reclaiming" it.
"That's a long way down the road," he said. "But I can tell you it's a jewel, with a lot of possibilities."