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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

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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