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State grinds railroad ties in Lake Clear

Excavators and a wood chipper operated by National Salvage employees grind up around 40,000 railroad ties stored in Lake Clear off Station Road on Monday. They had worked through around 300 feet of a 1,000-foot long pile of wood and are expected to finish by the end of the week. The wood chip piles will remain, but the state Department of Labor expects them to be removed soon. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

LAKE CLEAR — The state is grinding up around 40,000 rail ties in Lake Clear this week to make way for the new Adirondack Rail Trail. The tie grinding has some nearby residents concerned; others aren’t concerned at all.

The state Department of Transportation has a contract with National Salvage to grind up railroad ties that aren’t salvageable between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. The company did similar tie grinding in Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake recently. The piles of wood chips left behind smell like the creosote tar the wood is soaked in. In Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, the smell drifted into nearby neighborhoods, worrying some neighbors who expressed concern about possible health effects.

People living on Station Road and Fish Hatchery Road in Lake Clear have similar concerns. Their concerns differ, however, in that many of them get their water from wells, Little Clear Pond is around 550 feet away from the worksite, and the DEC’s fish hatchery is right off the tracks.

Jay Dawson lives on Fish Hatchery Road. He said he’s concerned by the piles near his house.

“They’re uncovered. There’s no mediation or to stop the runoff,” he said. “The way it’s been raining and everything, it’s got to be going into Lake Clear.”

Though some neighbors are worried, others told the Enterprise that they aren’t too concerned about it and they’re happy with the progress the state is making on taking up the train tracks.

The DEC says it doesn’t expect significant environmental impacts because of the short duration of the rail tie grinding project in each community and the offsite disposal arrangements.

The piles of whole rail ties stand 20 feet tall. The mounds of chipped wood the work leaves in its wake are also around 20 feet tall and almost as wide as the rail corridor.

DOT Spokesperson Mike Flick said grinding in Lake Clear is expected to be complete by the end of the week. Chipping started on Saturday and resumed Monday. On Monday afternoon, the crews were about 300 feet into a 1,000 foot-long pile of ties.

“Ties that are in serviceable condition are being salvaged and will be reused for railroad purposes,” Flick wrote in an email. “Ties that can’t be reused are ground into wood chips on site in accordance with DEC regulations.”

Flick said after completion, the ground-up material will be “hauled away and disposed of at an approved facility.”

The ties have to be chipped or landfills will not accept them, he said.

“Such processing, if done on the site … is an exempt activity and therefore compliant with solid waste regulations,” Flick wrote in an email.

Neighbors

Dawson questioned the thought behind the choice of location for the chipping.

“I don’t have a thing against blue-collar workers. I’m one myself. I don’t have anything against the bike path because I’m looking forward to riding on it myself,” he said. “But who would think that’s a good idea?”

Dawson said he was never notified by the state that this would happen. He called the area a “landfill site” and said the work should have been done further down the tracks.

Dawson acknowledged that the rail ties were already all along the tracks for decades, but he believes such a large quantity of them in one place poses a greater chance of contamination, especially when they’re ground up.

Michael Puccini, who lives across Fish Hatchery Road from the trail, said he works in Lake Placid most days so the smell doesn’t bother him. He also said he is partially deaf in both ears, so he has not noticed the sounds of construction his neighbors have.

Maclay Stratford, who lives across Fish Hatchery Road from the trail, said he bikes a lot and is not worried by the smell.

Laird Bishop, who lives around 300 feet from the piles, said he was initially unconcerned by the rail ties, but when he learned the state was grinding them and leaving them before removing them, his position changed.

“No, I’m not really too cool with that,” Bishop said. “There’s a lot of potential for contamination. I am very concerned about that.”

He’s not concerned about his well being contaminated. His well goes 800 feet deep and into the rock. He does not think creosote will travel that far, but he worried about the land and nature that surrounds the worksite.

“I think they need to take them to a non-residential area,” Bishop said. “I know this is the convenient access, but … grinding that stuff there? That doesn’t go away when they do.”

Creosote

The railroad ties have creosote in them.

Creosote is created by distilling tar from wood or coal. Coal creosote is used in railroad ties to protect the wood from termites and fungi decay.

There are mixed results on if creosotes are carcinogenic but long-term exposure on the skin has been shown to be associated with skin and testicular cancers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is unclear how extensive the exposure, if any, there is when creosote-soaked wood is chipped and the smell is in the air.

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