QUEENSBURY — The owner of Saratoga & North Creek Railway told Warren County supervisors Friday that he would scuttle a plan to store train cars in the Adirondacks if he was compensated with the revenue the storage proposal would bring.
Ed Ellis, president of the railway’s parent company, Iowa Pacific Holdings, spent more than an hour answering questions, and also heard that at least one environmental group that opposes the idea is contemplating legal action against it.
Ellis and county supervisors sparred at times during the two-hour meeting of the board’s Public Works Committee, which was scheduled to allow Ellis to more fully explain the storage proposal.
The rail company has been criticized by environmental groups and residents for a plan to store cleaned tank cars on its rail line north of North Creek in Minerva and Newcomb, crossing the Warren County- and Corinth-owned tracks to the south to get there. The cars were said to be en route as of this week, with no timetable for arrival.
The Warren County board’s Finance Committee last month voted to oppose the plan, as has the Essex County Board of Supervisors, in whose county the tankers would be kept. Warren County supervisors took no additional action Friday, and the full board will vote Oct. 20 on the Finance Committee resolution.
Ellis did not back off his plan as he spoke, and said he would do so only if his company could be provided commensurate “seven figures” revenue that storing them would generate. He also pointed out that his company’s contract, renewed last year, allowed for car storage, and he would not have sought a renewal if it didn’t. The money is needed for track maintenance, which has cost the company $5.5 million the past six years, he added.
“If you don’t want me to store the cars, you need to talk to me about reasonable compensation,” Ellis said.
He reassured supervisors that the train cars would not be publicly visible.
“The only way you are going to see these cars is if you trespass on our tracks,” Ellis said.
He said state officials do not have standing to stop the company’s plan because it is part of the railroad business.
The Essex County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution against the plan, and Minerva Supervisor Steve McNally spoke out against it at Friday’s meeting.
Ellis said Warren County’s opposition would likely hurt his company’s ability to get storage customers.
But Ellis said Essex County does not partner with the company and has no standing, unlike Warren County and the town of Corinth, with whom SNCR contracts.
Should the railroad cease to operate, Ellis said his company would notify the train car owners to come get them.
“We wouldn’t leave them behind,” he said.
He said passenger cars with peeling paint that were left on the Tahawus line, and have been photographed by opponents of the storage plan, were not owned by SNCR and were the property of the prior line operator.
Ellis heard from supervisors both for and against his plan and environmental groups who are against it
Neil Woodworth, counsel and executive director of Adirondack Mountain Club, said his organization believes that storing train cars on the line indefinitely would violate the legal “condemnation” of the state Forest Preserve land over which the tracks pass, reverting ownership of that land back to the state.
“We’re in a situation where it goes back into the Forest Preserve,” Woodworth said.
Glens Falls 5th Ward Supervisor said Matt MacDonald said the Warren County board cannot ignore the sentiments of its neighbors, as the Adirondacks are “one community.”
Glens Falls 3rd Ward Supervisor Claudia Braymer and Thurman Supervisor Cynthia Hyde both said their constituents have voiced opposition, with Hyde saying that the train cars will be clearly visible to visitors flying over the area.
“This is one where people are on the same page. They do not want this,” Braymer said.
Queensbury Supervisor John Strough questioned the impact a line of cars would have on wildlife migration, but Ellis said his company knows how to store them to allow animals passage.
Lake George Supervisor Dennis Dickinson, however, said the county seemed to be “infringing” on the railroad’s operations.
The town of Corinth, which owns a southern section of the rail line, has not opposed the proposal, with town Supervisor Richard Lucia speaking in favor of it Friday.
Although some railroad critics have called for turning the tracks into a bike path as SNCR struggles financially, Ellis said he would be willing to discuss a possible trail along the tracks, which his company has done in England with success.
“Rail with trail can be a lot safer than trail without rail,” Ellis said. (corrected.)