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Protect the Adirondacks! gives Tahawus rail line history lesson

Guest Commentary

Protect the Adirondacks! gives Tahawus rail line history lesson

To the News Enterprise/Adirondack Journal:

Protect the Adirondacks! is as happy as everyone else about the success of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. We wish SNCR well there.

SNCR’s proposal to extend its operations to Tahawus is another story. Nearly half of the 30-mile right-of-way for the Tahawus spur lies on the State Forest Preserve, which belongs to all of the people of New York state. Protect’s first obligation as an Adirondack conservation organization is to defend Article 14 of the State constitution, the “forever wild” provision for the State Forest Preserve.

In 1941 the federal government wantonly violated Article 14 and private landowners when it took easements for the right-of-way by eminent domain to haul ilmenite (titanium) ore, a strategic mineral during the wartime emergency, from Tahawus. Ore of much better quality lies in overseas sources, but German subs were of concern during the war.

The State of New York and Protect’s predecessor organization, the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court about the violation and tried to have the Preserve returned at the end of the war. In the end, the easements on the Preserve were made temporary, for a 15-year term, on the grounds that the federal agency had to amortize its $3 million cost for construction of the railroad. The easements on the private land were permanent from the beginning.

The railroad, upon completion in 1941, was immediately leased to National Lead. When the war emergency was over, the ore was hauled by National Lead strictly for commercial profit-making purposes.

In 1962 the federal agency in charge tried to surplus the easements and rails to National Lead. The State objected but did not go to court. The federal agency, quite arbitrarily, extended the easements for 100 years for the same purposes as the original easements. National Lead stopped mining and hauling ilmenite ore in 1982, abandoned the rail spur in 1989, tried to sell its entire 11,400-acre property to the State throughout the 1990s but couldn’t get certification that it was free of hazardous waste, finally sold 10,000 acres in 2003 including the ilmenite reserves at Cheney Pond, then applied to APA in 2005 to salvage the rails for scrap from Barton Mines northward with the idea of selling the “stolen” rail-free easements on the Preserve to the State for a trail. After six months this application was withdrawn for various reasons and in 2006 NL Industries demolished its mill buildings at Tahawus and cleaned up the site.

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