Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Rail project proceeds despite environmental concerns, loss of funds

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Despite the loss of $3 million in state funding promised in July 2008 by then-state Sen. Joseph Bruno, a $40-million rail-yard project in Mechanicsville, N.Y., is still in the works, local newspapers report. The new facility is to be built by Pan Am Southern LLC, a joint venture of Pan Am Railways, formerly Guilford Transportation and before that the Boston and Maine Railroad, and Norfolk Southern Railway. Boston and Maine once operated extensive rail yards here, connecting with the Delaware & Hudson Railway, but those yards were gone by the 1980s.

Officials initially thought the rail yard could begin operating last month, but environmental concerns delayed the start of construction. Within the next two weeks, the Army Corps of Engineers will issue a public notice outlining Pan Am Southern's plans to deal with wetlands and a stream. That proposal will be open for public comment for 30 days.

"They need a permit from this office to fill wetlands and streams on the site," said John Connell, senior project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, based at Watervliet Arsenal. "They're proposing to re-establish some stream channels on site and to create new wetlands at a site in Stillwater."

The project apparently lost its chance at state funding when contracts weren't completed before Bruno's retirement, said Dennis Brobston, president of Saratoga Economic Development Corp.

"It was unfortunate that the $3 million the state pledged to the project didn't make it through the budget process, but it will not affect the project," said Rudy Husband, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern, in response to an e-mail inquiry.

Husband said the railroads would like to see construction begin this spring, but that work couldn't begin until they had all the permits.

Thomas Richardson, Mechanicville city supervisor, said the project includes "three or four" buildings, and that there will be 16 sets of tracks, with a crane that would stack and unstack cargo containers from the rail cars.

Steve Watts, chairman of the Halfmoon planning board, said he hasn't seen any applications for building permits. Halfmoon has taken a lead role in overseeing approvals for the project.

Neighbors along Route 67 also have sought changes in the railroad project, seeking relocation of a truck entrance that would carry traffic to and from the yard.

The rail project would give Norfolk Southern access to the Boston and eastern New England market, in competition with CSX Transportation. In all, NS is investing $140 million, which includes track and signal improvements as well as the new intermodal yard. Pan Am contributed track to the joint venture.

As many as 85 people will work at the Mechanicville facility, which also covers land in the adjacent towns of Halfmoon and Stillwater, when it is fully operational sometime in the middle of the decade.

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