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Conductor Mark Ellsworth and Steve Torrico, Saratoga & North Creek Railway general manager, poke their heads out of the train as the inaugural run of the snow train hauling skiers and sightseers from Saratoga to North Creek pulls into the historic North Creek train depot Dec. 30. The Iowa Pacific Holding Inc. has plans to reopen the freight rail line to Tahawus to remove mining remnants left during the production of titanium needed for World War II.

Jason McKibben file photo — jmckibben@poststar.com

The last time environmentalists fought freight rail service from North Creek to Tahawus, there was a war on.

Early in the 1940s, the federal government sought to put an industrial rail spur in to Tahawus to mine ilmenite, a strategic mineral used in the production of titanium, needed for the war effort.

The Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, an environmental group, fought the line, because it would cut through areas of the state's Forest Preserve, protected by the Forever Wild clause of the state constitution. The group's objections were overridden by those who felt winning World War II was a higher priority than preserving the untrammeled sanctity of the Adirondack forest.

No one can accuse Adirondack environmentalists of a lack of zeal or dedication to their cause above all others, as this case demonstrates. Now, Protect the Adirondacks, a successor organization to the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, is fighting the revitalization of the line, which trains have not traveled for more than 20 years.

The environmental advocates argue, first, the industrial spur never should have been built; second, it never should have been used after the war ended; and, third, since it hasn't been used since 1989, it should be considered abandoned.

We argue, first, the spur was built; second, the industrial easements for use of the spur were extended and run through 2062; and, third, no one has shown that the legal criteria for abandonment has been met.

"Abandonment," in reference to a rail line, or a road, is a legal term with specific criteria. As environmental groups have found to their dismay with some Adirondack roads, it is not enough to argue a right of way has been abandoned in a general sense - because the road hasn't been used in years or because it is overgrown with weeds. A case for abandonment must, like any other legal case, fit the legal definition of the word.

The irony of the environmental advocates' argument the rail

spur has been abandoned is that some of the same people argue the other side of the case when it comes to waterways. Environmental groups have made strong and successful arguments for establishing public rights of way on obscure waterways, saying the right of way is not lost just because the waterways are little-used or overgrown.

Iowa Pacific has so far, in its first year of operation, made a success of running a passenger line between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. The company is also interested in reopening the industrial spur to Tahawus, for the purpose of moving out tons of tailings left over from the mining operation. This industrial waste, heaped up in great piles at the old mine, is now polluting the heart of the Adirondack forest. Iowa Pacific executives believe they can find a market for the material and propose to clean some of it up by carrying it out in the cleanest and most efficient way they can, by rail.

The environmental groups, standing on principle, are aghast. They prefer to have any material taken from the site - and tons of stone is still carried away from there every year - carried away by trucks, damaging the roads and coughing diesel fumes into the air.

Iowa Pacific's plan could create jobs and could lead to more industrial use of the line, particularly from Barton Mines in North Creek. This would be good for the Adirondack economy and good for the Adirondack environment, because using existing rail lines is better for the environment than using the roads to haul the same material.

But don't hold your breath waiting for environmentalists to support the plan. Seventy years ago, with Europe in flames, they didn't want the Adirondack wilderness disturbed to help the war effort. They're not going to support the rail line now to create a few jobs and clean up some pollution.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley and citizen representative Charlotte Potvin.

 

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