Congressional hopefuls call for action on rail car storage

Stefanik said she’s ‘looking into the matter’

Train engines sit on tracks outside of the North Creek station of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, alongside state Route 28. More of these cars were brought in and stored in extra tracks on the line last month, sparking a debate over storing tanker cars in the Adirondacks. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

PLATTSBURGH — North Country congressional candidate Katie Wilson says action is needed now to prevent part of the Adirondacks from becoming “a junkyard.”

Wilson is calling for an immediate investigation by the federal Surface Transportation Board to help return 22 miles of railroad tracks in Warren and Essex counties to local control, enabling towns and villages to stop the storage of thousands of railcars inside the Adirondack Park.

Wilson, a Democrat from Keene in Essex County, also called for Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-Willsboro) to break her silence and finally take action to protect her constituents.

“The Adirondack Park is not a junkyard, and the residents of the North Country deserve a voice in determining how our land is treated and protected,” Wilson said.

“We know Iowa Pacific intends to store 22 miles of rusting, decaying, vandalized and toxic railcars inside the park, sitting on the banks of our rivers and in our protected wilderness. This is not a partisan issue. All across Warren and Essex counties, and beyond, community officials and residents have come together in opposition to this misuse and abuse of our environment and region.”

“Storage of hundreds of unused oil-train cars in the middle of the Adirondack wilderness, along the Hudson and Boreas Rivers, represents a blight on the North Country, a danger to our communities, a harm to local small businesses and a betrayal by government officials, who never should have let this happen in the first place,” Wilson said.

“Support for taking action to stop the storage of these railcars has broad bipartisan support,” she said, “including advocates from business, conservationist and environmental advocacy alike.”

Granted access

The Surface Transportation Board recently cemented its legal authority and federal jurisdiction over the Tahawus rail line – and Iowa Pacific Holdings, the company responsible for parking unused railcars on the 22-mile stretch of track —  when it granted the company “common carrier” status in 2012, Wilson said.

The ruling allowed Iowa Pacific to rebuild and use outdated segments of rail lines to transport World War II-era materials for refinement in New York.

Now, the company intends to use this federally granted authority to turn the Adirondack Park into a parking lot for contaminated and unsafe tanker cars that pose a health risk to the environment and surrounding communities, Wilson said.

Understands concern

Stefanik (R-Willsboro) said the issue has been brought to her by several local elected officials in the park, and she is looking into the matter.

“We’ve encouraged them (local officials) to reach out to the DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) and the state, which has jurisdiction over the park, to clarify what actions can be taken at the state level,” she said.

“At the same time, we are also in the process of officially opening a case with DOT (federal Department of Transportation) to see what action can be taken at the federal level.”

Stefanik said she also does not want to see part of the park turned into a junkyard.

“I understand that concern, and that is why we have been responsive to local electeds,” she said.

“I am confident that we are going to get answers about what steps can be taken and provide clarification to our local leaders about how we can move forward and address this.”

Pursue issue

Emily Martz of Saranac Lake, another Democratic candidate who lives in the Adirondack Park, also weighed in on railcar the issue.

“Just because Iowa Pacific can store its cars in the Adirondacks doesn’t mean it should,” Martz said.

“The Adirondacks are not their dumping ground. Now that local elected officials and environmental groups have made it clear that they are opposed to the storage, if our representative in the House has any means of recourse she should pursue it to the fullest, as I would do.”

Wilson and Martz among several Democrats seeking to challenge Stefanik in next year’s election, along with Russ Finley, a Republican from St. Lawrence County.

A primary will likely be held next June to determine who will face Stefanik in next November’s general election.

Stefanik was first elected in 2014, then re-elected in 2016.

(Editor’s note: Four daily newspapers in the North Country — the Enterprise, Post-Star of Glens Falls, Watertown Daily Times and Press-Republican of Plattsburgh — are sharing content to better cover New York’s 21st Congressional District.)