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Growing threat to our river valley ignored

I recently went to a candidate forum on environmental issues featuring Democratic nominee Antonio Delgado and Congressman John Faso. They both briefly touched on the August 9 train derailment, dismissing it as a symptom of the shortfall of funding of the infrastructure and an unfortunate weather event. Neither seemed aware of the trend and the inevitable disaster we are flirting with. The fact is, we clearly dodged a bullet.

After the third train derailment I have seen in our river valley, I am aware of only two changes affecting the railroad’s operations in recent decades:

1. Instead of the cargo being clothes, toys and shoes, as spilled in the Narrowsburg derailments years ago, the cargo now may be toxic and radioactive.

2. Currently accepted science says that extreme weather, including so-called “torrential downpours” and local flooding events will be more severe and more common. Most of us know this is already happening. This seems particularly relevant as the most recent derailment reportedly occurred as a result of a wash-out around an over-taxed culvert. It should be noted here that the subject train drove into a community that had hours before declared a flood emergency. I have been canoeing on the Delaware River for nearly 60 years, and if the railroad has upgraded any part of their right-of-way to accommodate improved drainage, I have not seen it. In other words, the weather has changed but the railroad’s drainage systems have not.

The National Park Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation both reported that the fuel spill was contained and/or “dissipated” by the high, fast water and evaporation, and the contaminated soil would be removed. I am aware of no mention by any agency of an investigation, determination of the facts leading to the spill, or any actions taken or even proposed to prevent the next spill. In fact I visited the accident site and observed that the repaired culvert was again partially blocked.

I don’t blame these agencies. I have no idea which agency is the primary one responsible for enforcement of laws relating to public safety in this case. Is it a state or federal agency? National Transportation Safety Board? Does anyone know or care? Where does the buck stop? For example, who is asking the questions, “Who is responsible for sending a train carrying toxic waste into a previously declared flooding state of emergency?” “Was the train speeding?,” “Did the train have a black box and/or video cam, and if so what do they tell us?” Anyone can check weather conditions before they go out on a stormy night, and we all know to “turn around, don’t drown.” Yet apparently the New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad does not bother with such precautions.


I would be saddened by the loss of jobs and tax revenue that shutting down the railroad would mean. But in a cost/benefit analysis, the threat to our valley’s beauty, our economic engine, our homes and our livelihoods is too great. The threat seems obvious, and the fact that it is being ignored is frightening. Think for a second how you would be affected if the river was closed by a toxic spill.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A river is more than an amenity, it is a treasure.”

We need to ask the railroad to cease operations in our valley.

[Jim Powell is a resident of Narrowsburg, NY.]


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