The former NL Industries mine at Tahawus hasn't seen rail traffic since 1989, but the Saratoga-North Creek Railway has plans to carry freight on the long-dormant rails.
With environmental groups airing their concerns about re-opening the rail line to Tahawus, Newcomb Supervisor George Canon and the North Country Chamber of Commerce have chimed in with letters supporting the line.
Canon was very critical of Protect! the Adirondacks opposition to moving freight along the old Tahawus rail line. The environmental group has been lobbying to the Surface Transportation Board against opening the tracks into the former National Lead mine.
The Saratoga-North Creek Railway, following a successful launch of passenger service, is looking to start freight operations in the area. Freight’s been part of the railway’s plans for profitable operation since they signed up to run their service.
Canon said he wants to make sure the board is hearing from more than just Protect! the Adirondacks.
“It's economic development in the park, we can't have that,” Canon said sarcastically.
Though his town government isn't in the loop on rail development locally, any new developments in the 481-citizen town are welcome, said Canon.
Canon lived in Tahawus as a youth, when his father worked at the mine's mill as an operator. Canon worked for NL Industries there for 30 years, mostly as a computer programmer. His son worked at the mine briefly, making the total three successive generations of Canons who worked at the mine.
When Canon worked there, the mine had a payroll of about 500 employees, as large as the town's current population. People came from North Creek, Tupper Lake, Long Lake, Pottersville, “Basically every town in the area had at least some people working at the site,” said Canon.
“I'm not anticipating that anything like that is in the cards,” he said. But even two, five or 10 jobs are very important to the small community, he noted.
North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas also chimed in at the board with a letter of support, citing his regional economic development council's strategic plan that called for preserving and developing rail assets across the North Country.
“Rail is coming back,” said Douglas. “Rail is green. Rail is efficient. Rail is a major attraction for tourism as the people in North Creek have seen.”
His office firmly believes that without transportation, economic development efforts will fall flat. That's been central to their efforts at the Plattsburgh International Airport.
“If you look through human history, zones of prosperity rise and fall in alignment with shifts in movement,” said Douglas.
The rail line to Tahawus has sat unused for two decades, but it's been preserved and was even held by the Essex County Industrial Development Agency to shelter NL Industries from tax costs that could have made owning the rail rights a burden. Opportunity now exists because the rail wasn't torn apart, said Douglas.
Protests from Protect! have hindered Saratoga-North Creek Railway's efforts to establish a freight line heading to Newcomb and hopefully encompass customers beyond NL Industries Tahawus site. Their primary business there now is shipping 30,000 tons of screened rock and 3,000 tons of magnetite from the site, currently by truck.
As gas prices rise, said Douglas, it's important for local freight to be insulated from those costs. The more efficient rail engines are an important answer, especially in the transportation-deficient Adirondack Park.
“There's no place that's less blessed in transportation than the Adirondacks, that makes what they do have even more valuable,” said Douglas.
“Saying it shouldn't be used is simply bizarre,” he said. “Maybe we'll eradicate just a little bit of the poverty that too many interests always saying no seem to forget about.”
In addition to Protects! concerns, the state's Department of Environmental Conservation's Robert Davies, director of the department's Division of Lands and Forests expressed concern over legal issues to the regulatory board. A DEC spokesperson said the organization has no official stance, and did not cite any specific legal issues, saying they're under review.
In addition to getting the Essex County Board of Supervisors to submit another letter, Canon's hoping to convince the Adirondack Association of Towns and Villages, the Intercounty Legislative Committee and the Adirondack Park Local Government review board to join in support of the rail.