Town Board Urges Action to Prevent ‘Bomb’ Train Accidents on Hudson

Looks at NARCAN police training, local government consolidation

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

Citing the “explosive and … corrosive” nature of crude oil transported by trains and the “immediate, significant risk” of a Hudson Highlands accident, the Philipstown Town Board last Thursday (March 5) urged federal and state governments to protect the public, economy and environment from derailments and other disasters.

In other business at their meeting at Town Hall, board members discussed the adequacy of Narcan training — especially in the Cold Spring Police Department — to prevent heroin-overdose deaths. They likewise continued consideration of local government consolidation.

‘Bomb’ trains

The five-member board unanimously passed a resolution calling for strict oversight of the transportation of dangerous Bakken shale oil and heavy tar-sand oil, carried by train along the west shore of the Hudson River, and, slightly less frequently, by barges and tankers on the water.

Such trains typically consist of more than 100 rail cars, many regarded by the National Transportation Safety Board and other critics as too flimsy to carry combustible fuel. They started to appear a few years ago, with a boom in production from North Dakotan and neighboring oil Canadian fields, and run twice a day, snaking between the water and the mountains and passing by the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, villages and schools, across a narrow stretch of river from Philipstown.

Railroad personnel dubbed them “bomb” trains, and their mishaps, leaking oil and shooting flames far into the sky and across wide swathes of ground, have occurred in North America in headline-making repetition: On Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the Town Board vote, an oil train derailed near the Mississippi River in the countryside outside historic Galena, Illinois; on Saturday (March 7) a train went off the tracks in Ontario.

Both accidents set off conflagrations, and the Canadian derailment prompted authorities to warn residents to not tap their usual water for drinking, due to fears of contamination. A similar accident took place nearby in Ontario in February — the same week an oil train derailed in West Virginia.

“There have been serious incidents with these, explosions across the country,” Philipstown Supervisor Richard Shea said Thursday night. In the Hudson Highlands, “if you have an oil spill of the magnitude that these could cause, it would be just absolute devastation. So we feel it’s incumbent on this Town Board to take action.” In doing so, the Town Board joins counterparts in other river communities. Given a record of “negligence” and “deficiencies” in crude-oil transport, Shea said that “something should be done now. This is a dangerous business and it’s not to be taken lightly.”

Philipstown’s resolution points to Constitution Marsh and other river wildlife habitats as needing protection and terms “tourism supported by the pristine and natural environment and unique landscapes of the Hudson Highlands … a key part of Philipstown’s economy.” The measure calls on state and federal governments “to immediately order a full environmental impact study of the potential impacts of increased crude-oil transport by train, barge or ship through the Hudson Highlands and to enact stringent rules and regulations for the transportation of crude oil.”

It also urges them “to explore and develop alternative means for the distribution and transportation of crude oil.” Copies were to be sent to state and national officials. The Putnam County legislature held a committee presentation on “bomb” trains last month and is expected to take up a similar resolution soon.

Later, during the public comment period, Cold Spring Trustee Stephanie Hawkins stood “to thank the Town Board and the county legislature for their leadership on behalf of everyone calling for meaningful changes to stop the ‘bomb’ trains.”

Narcan training

The board got varying information on whether the Cold Spring Police Department can administer Narcan. The question arose when Putnam County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra told the board that the county health department has assumed responsibility for Narcan training for the county and would provide Narcan to first responders. The general public also can take the training; meanwhile, law enforcement personnel are being trained or already have been, across Putnam, she added.

“The only police in the whole county that haven’t received training and feel they don’t need it is the Cold Spring police,” she said. “They felt that since the sheriff had the training, they didn’t need to. I wish the Cold Spring police would take the plunge and do the training.”

Councilor Nancy Montgomery expressed surprise. “This is the first time I’ve learned that the Cold Spring police were not trained,” she said. “We learned from being EMTs [emergency medical technicians] that the first one on the scene usually is the police.”

Hawkins subsequently clarified the Cold Spring Police Department’s stance. “The police did not decline Narcan training because they prefer it’s dealt with by the Sheriff’s Office,” she said. Rather, she explained, “we have one officer trained in Narcan, and he’s working on protocols for our police regarding training. And there are some issues we have about liability and the chain of custody of drugs in those situations.”

Councilor John Van Tassel, a former paramedic, observed that “Narcan, as we’re learning, is a quick fix. Obviously, it’s not the cure for the heroin epidemic. But it will buy the person some time.” The more people trained to administer it, “the better chances we have of actually keeping somebody alive,” he said.

Consolidation

Shea reported on a recent meeting with state and federal representatives regarding government consolidation — “and we do need to look at consolidating between Nelsonville, Cold Spring and Philipstown,” he emphasized. “Something is going to happen, otherwise our taxpayers are going to suffer. We need to come up with something for 2015” to meet state demands. “There are a number of things we could combine and simple things we could be doing.”

As examples, he proposed that local emergency services join the town in combined fuel purchases, using town channels that supply it at discounts through the state government, with the taxpayers in the participating jurisdictions sharing in the benefits; and mergers of the Philipstown, Nelsonville and Cold Spring justice courts and building departments. “There are several” good ideas “we are going to take action on,” Shea said.

Montgomery, the deputy supervisor, concurred and recommended a review of “how we compare financially to other municipalities [in New York] and efforts other municipalities have taken to make their government more efficient and better.”

Scuccimarra picked out the justice courts as “the glaring consolidation [opportunity] right there.”

“There are a lot of glaring ones,” Montgomery replied.


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