The railroad company that hopes to store out-of-service oil tankers on a little-used rail line in the southern Adirondacks has threatened to have the leader of an environmental group charged with trespass on its rail line after pictures of declining rail cars on the line were posted online.
The threat prompted a lawyer for Protect the Adirondacks to fire off a letter with the assertion that, since the rail line passes through state-owned forest preserve, it was not illegal for the organization’s executive director, Peter Bauer, to walk along the tracks provided he doesn’t interfere with rail operations.
The threat was made after Bauer and Brian Mann, a reporter with North Country Public Radio, made a trip to the rail line owned by Saratoga & North Creek Railway parent company Iowa Pacific Holdings LLC and posted photos online of old passenger rail cars, at least one of which had peeling paint and appeared to be in declining shape.
Days later, Bauer received a letter — which indicated it was copied to the State Police — threatening legal action if he went back on the property. Mann did not receive a letter.
“Should you fail to stay off our property, we will pursue all remedies available at law, including having criminal charges brought against you for unlawful trespass,” wrote lawyer David Michaud.
Under state law, trespass is a non-criminal violation.
John Caffry, a lawyer for Protect the Adirondacks, responded with a tersely worded letter Sept. 24 in which he threatened to pursue “all remedies available at law” if Iowa Pacific tried to interfere with Protect’s efforts to use the forest preserve.
Caffry pointed out that the railroad has an easement for its 14 miles of tracks in the forest preserve, and he believed that members of the public can use that easement as well, provided they don’t “unreasonably interfere with railroad operations.”
“Mr. Bauer, Protect (the Adirondacks) and all members of the public are free to use these 14 miles of forest preserve that are subject to your easement, so long as they do not unreasonably interfere with the operation of your railroad facilities,” Caffry wrote.
Protect is one of a number of environmental groups that has criticized Iowa Pacific’s proposal to bring old oil tankers to the rail line between North River and Tahawus for storage, out of concern for possible environmental problems and aesthetic issues with putting them in a picturesque wilderness area along the upper Hudson River.
Thousands of former oil tankers were taken out of service in recent months because of new safety rules, and owners are looking for places to store them. The line to the former NL Industries mines that Iowa Pacific purchased — after starting operation of SNCRR in Warren and Saratoga counties — is seldom used at this point.
The environmental groups appealed to the state to halt the plan, but neither the state Department of Environmental Conservation nor Adirondack Park Agency have publicly said whether they can stop it. Spokesmen for both agencies have said in recent days that the matter is under review, as it has been since the proposal was unveiled in late July.
Iowa Pacific President Ed Ellis said in an email Wednesday that the company has “no timetable for arrival of any cars at this time.”
Also, Ellis said the proposal extends to “the ability to store any kind of car on our tracks,” not just tank cars. Those cars could include hoppers, covered hoppers, flatcars, etc.,” he wrote.
In July, Ellis had said the cars would likely start arriving in the fall. He said at the time he did not believe the rail company needed approval to bring the cars to the area.