NORTH CREEK After early, vague legal concerns were voiced by the state Department of Environmental Conservation about the rail to Tahawus, the organization has come out in support of the plan to re-open the freight line to the old ilmenite mine.
The DEC wrote a joint letter with the state's Department of Transportation to the federal Surface Transportation Board March 15 urging approval of common carrier status for the Saratoga-North Creek Railway. It was filed Monday, March 19.
After an initial trickle of letters opposing the line or questioning its legality, there was a flood of letters submitted in support from chambers of commerce, town halls and individuals around the region. The DEC/DOT letter points to the frequently-cited environmental and highway maintenance benefits of opening the tracks to freight customers.
The train would take heavy trucks off the roads in a sparsely populated region where road maintenance is expensive and frequent. It would also replace several diesel truck engines with one train engine, reducing noise, pollution and dust.
The DEC has plans to create a community-connecting snowmobile trail, and Iowa Pacific has promised to help make that a reality. The trains won't run along the rail line in the winter, so the rail company will make the bed available to white-season off-roaders.
Longer term, Iowa Pacific won't stand in the way of turning the rail bed into a pedestrian trail once its business there is done.
U.S. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand also supported the rail line, citing the same reasons of job creation, highway traffic reduction and environmental impact.
Alongside Gillibrand's letter, Iowa Pacific Attorney John Heffner wrote that the project is overwhelmingly supported by local organizations and officials. Now that the DEC is on board, Protect the Adirondacks! is the only major protestor of the project, he wrote.
The Surface Transportation Board, which regulates rail use, denied an exemption request by Iowa Pacific to file an application for common carrier status along the line. That status would allow the railroad to carry freight for companies besides NL Industries, the owner of the Tahawus mine, and make the rail refurbishment investment more appealing.