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Demands for rail safety coalesce at W’burgh Grange forum

The rail transport of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota has surged from almost nothing four years ago to 800,000 barrels per day. Pictured above: Local stakeholders listen to Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava speak at a public forum on rail safety at the Whallonsburg Grange on Tuesday, Aug. 19.

The rail transport of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota has surged from almost nothing four years ago to 800,000 barrels per day. Pictured above: Local stakeholders listen to Moriah Supervisor Tom Scozzafava speak at a public forum on rail safety at the Whallonsburg Grange on Tuesday, Aug. 19. Photo by Pete DeMola.

WHALLONSBURG — The people-powered movement to address the increase in oil tankers gliding through the Champlain Valley region gained momentum on Tuesday, Aug. 19 when 90 stakeholders assembled at the Whallonsburg Grange Hall to discuss an issue that has now become unavoidable.

Tankers of crude from North Dakota are moving through the region at an accelerated clip, up from virtually nothing four years ago. They’re heading to a refinery at the Port of Albany, where the volatile oil is processed and shipped down the Hudson River.

Some of the cars are DOT-111 tankers, a rupture-prone older model that the Canadian government recently ordered to be phased out within the next two years.

The federal government is currently weighing their options for a similar measure. Their decision is expected to be handed down shortly.

Essex County residents, public officials and emergency responders have been increasingly assertive in staying abreast of the situation, an issue that has been brought into sharper focus after an unattended chain of tankers rolled seven miles down a hill in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last summer before exploding and killing 47 people.

Municipal governments across the North Country are examining local emergency response capacity in the event of mishaps; they’re requesting cargo manifests, reviewing evacuation protocols and fine-tuning their relationship with Canadian Pacific (CP), the rail company tasked with shipping the volatile cargo through some of the most challenging terrain in the country.

And they’re holding public forums.

GRASSROOTS MEASURES

“Such solutions lie in such gatherings,” said Plattsburgh City Councilor Rachelle Armstrong, addressing the crowd that filled the Grange to capacity.

Armstrong said discussions with “feisty seniors” at the Lake Forest Senior Living Community initially tipped her off to the increase in rail traffic.

“They lived 100 yards from the tracks where CP ran trains,” she said. “They said to me, ‘What do we do?’ I told them didn’t have the answers, but pledged to look into it.”

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