I cover the waterfront #2

mcvx79116The New York Times reported today on crude oil flowing down the Hudson – not flowing in it, at least not yet, but flowing on it and along side it. I am so happy that Jad Mouawad is following this story.

A Times article in January annoyed me. It reported that this oil was traveling across our country, but there was no mention that it was happening right here in New York. The  article on February 25th annoyed me – it didn’t make clear enough that the Department of Transportation was playing games with its mind-boggling order promoting the shipping of crude oil in DOT-111 tank cars, the ones that have been involved in explosions, fires, destruction, and death because they were not built to do the task at hand.

But I applaud all the coverage.  It appears that the articles are being read and that there is a flurry of scurrying by rail, regulators, politicians and citizenry to at last act. Please continue.

The Times Union in Albany has been feeding us the scary news for a while (see the previous Waterfront post).  In fact there was a derailment of a thankfully empty oil train near Kingston just this Tuesday. A locomotive and a sand-filled car in the 97-car oil train derailed near the Hudson Valley Mall in Ulster County. A southbound train carrying crude was waiting nearby for this train to pass before it continued on its way. This was the third oil train accident in the state in the past three months.  Senator Chuck Schumer is calling for the DOT-111s to be phased out by July, and for the lowered speed limits put into place for tank cars in New York City and Buffalo to be extended to all upstate communities.

If the DOT-111s are phased out, new tankers must take their place.  If we need this oil so badly, there should be a law that they be built at home.  Come on job creators.  Just think of all the men and women you could put to work.  I bet the rails could be brought up to higher standards also.  There’s got to be some positive side to destroying the climate.

Today I received an email message from the Environmental Advocates of New York, asking for money, of course, but also telling me about the “ 1.6 million gallons of oil moving through our state each year by train.” The email goes on to say that EANY is working with “community activists and organizational partners to stop Big Oil in its tracks. . .” Isn’t that clever?

Why do I keep wondering if all this concern about the trains is a ploy by the pipeline proponents to get their project approved? There is no safe way to move this oil around.

Personally I would like to see all this oil stay in the ground. It is not helping us in this country to save on energy costs or to make us self-sufficient in our energy needs. The extraction of the oil is destroying our landscape, disrupting geological formations, and poisoning our water and air. We need meaningful regulations and constraints on the corporations involved to build an infrastructure to support such huge operations and to force them to clean up after themselves. The workers need to be adequately trained to do their jobs safely to lower the rates of deaths and accidents on fracking sites.

There are issues at every stage of the process. It is a dirty fuel that only the profit makers and the suckered are promoting. The profit makers don’t want it in their back yard and the suckered will live to regret.

I cover the waterfront

This morning’s New York Times article, “Accidents Surge as Oil Industry Takes the Train,” by Clifford Krauss and Jad Mouawad, is a tardy but welcome look at one more dangerous and irresponsible aspect of the shale oil industry and the need for common sense and regulation to prevent further destruction of our environment, cities, and homes, and avoidable loss of lives.

Last night I watched the first half of Harlan County, USA, an Oscar-winning documentary about the 1973 coal miners’ strike.  Working and living conditions were deplorable.  The action of the police and the lack of concern by the government was expected but nonetheless depressing.  The courage and unity of the coalminers, both as workers and as strikers, and their wives were perhaps naive but definitely inspiring.  The double-speak of the mine-owners was nauseating.

Granted working conditions have improved since then, but definitely not enough to convince me that we are living in a land of opportunity and equality and respect for the working man.  The American ideals taught in grammar school (or which at least used to be taught in grammar school) and which are touted as making our country exceptional, are lost somewhere in the daily voracious onslaught of stupid and ugly politicking, the distracting hype and expensive investigation of non-existent conspiracies, the hate mongering media establishment, and the distortion that evil money brings to the interpretation and presentation of reality and to our government.  I still believe that good money, decent bosses, and politicians and government officials with integrity and honor exist, so don’t get on me that I am anti-money or anti-capitalism or anti-government.  These honest hard-working capitalists and politicians are just not having their day right now.

Some big industries still look upon workers as replaceable parts to be thrown away when they are too damaged to keep functioning.  Innocent bystanders are also just part of the cost of doing business.  Somewhere priorities are lost.  What is more important:  industry? or the people that industry is to serve?

2012-11-29 11.06.11This December I gathered together information from my personal research on what I see from my window overlooking the Hudson to share with the people of my town.  Included were pesticide spraying by the railroads and electric companies, new electric lines from Canada to Manhattan, effects of the rising sea level, and the transport of crude oil from the Bakken fields through Albany to east coast refineries.  With just a few updates, the section on the transport of oil along the river follows.

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Global Partners and Buckeye terminals in Albany are hubs for the passage of shale oil from the Bakken, North Dakota fields to refineries north and south along the east coast.  The oil comes in by train and goes out by barge or rail.

Surete du Quebec photo of the Lac Megantic derailment

Surete du Quebec photo of the Lac Megantic derailment

Roger Downs, conservation director of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic chapter in Albany is quoted in a July 2013 article in the Albany Times Union:  “People in the Capital District are horrified by the catastrophic train derailment and the subsequent loss of life in Quebec – but have no idea that the same Bakken crude oil shipments rumble through the heart of the city of Albany every day – presenting even greater risks to the lives of our own citizens. .  . If we are truly serious about facilitating a renewable energy future and protecting public health from these man-made disasters, Albany lawmakers can and should act to ban crude oil shipments through all our urban corridors.”

Downs was referring to the tanker train collision, fire, and death of 47 people in Lac-Megantic in Canada, just 10 miles out from Maine, a few days earlier.

Area agencies and residents are also concerned about the possibility of other accidents, such as the one in December of 2012, when a double-hulled tanker, the Stena Primorsk carrying crude ran aground 10 miles south of Albany.  No oil spilled from the tanker although the outer hull was breached.

Training of first responders as well as purchasing of emergency equipment in the Port of Albany and surrounding areas has been ongoing.  In November, officials from Orange, Dutchess and Ulster counties, the U.S. Coast Guard and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation enacted a simulation of an oil spill from a Global Partners subsidiary’s terminal in New Windsor. Over 100 people, including representatives from NOAA, observed.  The results showed that if floating booms were not used, the oil could spread as far north as Wappingers Creek and south to Storm King Park, a total of 15 miles.

Financial reporters are emphasizing that the less expensive shale oil will boost the east coast refineries that have been suffering from the high costs of imported oil.  Shipping crude oil by rail to and through Albany is only going to grow.

Schumer in Kingston, photo by Paul Kirby, Daily Freeman

Schumer in Kingston, photo by Paul Kirby, Daily Freeman

Railroad companies are asking for more regulation on the construction of railroad cars so that new cars, which are in demand, will be safer than the currently used DOT-111.  The DOT-111s are the tankers that derailed and burnt in Lac-Magantic and again in Alberta this October.  New York’s Senator Schumer called on the Federal Department of Transportation to phase out the DOT-111 in July, and this January he reiterated his appeal after the North Dakota derailment.

Sen. Schumer reported that between 100 and 200 DOT-111s pass through Kingston daily.  Most freight trains travel the western bank of the Hudson.  The tracks on the eastern shore are being restructured to make commuter travel more efficient.  However, the difference in how a railroad disaster would affect us if it is on our side or the other side of the river is only a matter of degree.

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Nothing in today’s New York Times article today mentions that oil trains are running across and down New York state, nor am I able to find any mention of Schumer’s concerns on the issue in the Times.  I’d like to think that our Senator’s second round of concern was sparked in part by the letter I wrote to his office – but that is a bit presumptuous.  Why don’t you write him one?

I’m not a rabble-rouser..  I don’t want to start a revolution.  I’m not a Joe Hill.  I just want to be safe and healthy and leave a good place for my children and their children.

It’s 1:30 and there are only 15 comments on the article.  There are however 400 on Ross Douthat’s contribution on marriage, sexuality, morality and poverty.  There are 212 comments on Maureen Dowd’s coverage of the emerging marijuana tourist business in Colorado.

Come on, people.  Come out of the clouds and think a little.

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Call to action issued after North Dakota oil train wreck, 01/07/2014  http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2014/01/07/Call-to-action-issued-after-North-Dakota-oil-train-wreck/UPI-75251389095711/

CP Rail oil shipment deal signals rail transport no longer stopgap measure, by Jeff Lewis, 09/01/2013  http://business.financialpost.com/2013/01/09/cp-rail-oil-shipment-deal-signals-rail-transport-no-longer-stopgap-measure/?__lsa=c6f7-eda2

Global Partners boosts Bakken shipments to eastern refiners, by Aaron Clark  Bradley Olson, 04/18/2012  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-18/global-partners-boosts-bakken-shipments-to-eastern-refiners-1-.html

How an oil spill could spread in the Hudson River, by Brian Nearing, 11/13/2013  http://blog.timesunion.com/green/how-an-oil-spill-could-spread-in-the-hudson-river/4485/

Hudson spill drill will test skill:  many agencies plan for first river exercises since tanker accident, by Brian Nearing, 11/08/2013   http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Hudson-spill-drill-will-test-skill-4968951.php

New York turns into hub for shale boom, by Gregory Meyer, 02/14/2014  http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5afe2abe-7564-11e2-b8ad-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2mMKhLZNS

Oil by rail:  are we safe?  Quebec disaster puts focus on busy Albany oil corridor, by Eric Anderson, 07/10/2013  http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Oil-by-rail-Are-we-safe-4656040.php

Schumer calls on FEDS to require phase-out plan of DOT-111 cars carrying oil through Western New York. . ., press release, 08/13/2013  http://www.schumer.senate.gov/Newsroom/record.cfm?id=345541&&year=2013&

Tanker carrying Bakken crude to Canadian refinery runs aground, by Eliot Caroom & Dan Murtaugh, 12/20/2012  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-20/tanker-carrying-bakken-crude-to-canadian-refinery-runs-aground.html

Unsettling echoes of Canada rail disaster, by Chris Churchill, The Advocate, 08/03/2013  http://www.timesunion.com/default/article/Unsettling-echoes-of-Canada-rail-disaster-4705390.php

Process 2: The Five Sighted Men and the River that Runs Through Hills Like White Elephants

The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water.

Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

My temptation is always to write too much.

Hemingway to Maxwell Perkins, 1940

Writing about the view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my window has been a struggle.  There is so much to say, so many stories attached to the view and so much history to my feelings about it.

I remember a story telling workshop led by Jay O’Callahan.  He had each of us talk about some object in our childhood home.  He wanted us to describe it using details.  We could talk about how it looked, or what we used it for, or if we liked it, or what it meant to one family member, anything – but fill it with details.  And that’s how I started writing about the view.  My mind was exploding with ideas, the content grew but I needed to keep from trying to squeeze a book into a brief essay.

Finally I remembered Hemingway and his iceberg theory.  I didn’t have to tell it all.  I could just know it and it would be there.

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Since I have a view of the Hudson River and the Catskills from my home, when I think of the Hudson River I see my view.   I’m very close to the water.  I went out and counted 70 paces from the back of my house to the river, if I could walk it like the crow flies.  It’s down 14 steps, across a narrow piece of CSX land, thru the lilacs, across a trench where some have said CSX has an overflow pipe to keep the river off the tracks during storms and high tides (I haven’t found any such evidence), over a northbound and a southbound set of rails, through a mess of sumac to the river.

It’s not an idyllic view and conversation ceases as the train goes by.  Although only one unhappy person, who never seemed to want to see anyone else be happy, has actually told me that my house was a very, very bad purchase, mostly because of its location, I am sure there are many others who probably would feel the same way.  I think the realtor who showed me the house was very surprised that I brushed off the train with a wave of the hand.

There are ten windows across the river side of the second floor of my house and they offer ten different pictures.  I delight in each one. Starting from the north, I look up the river and never really see anything, but I keep hoping something will come into view.  From the second window I see the cement plant, which could be worse, and which I think of as a castle lit up at night.

The next picture is of the hamlet directly across from mine.  I have driven over several times, and I sit on a bench put up by someone and peer back at my house, which looks a bit industrial itself.  At night I can see the lights of cars coming down the hill and imagine mothers and fathers coming home for dinner with their children.

When I hear the whistle of the freight train across the river, I look out the fourth window to the one spot where I can actually see the cars going by.

The next window gives a straight on view of the little island with two trees – the old Cheviot dock and an in-your-face telephone pole. I forgot to mention the telephone wires that I usually photoshop out of the view on the computer, and when I’m not focusing on the birds on the wire – out of my mind also.

In the winter there’s a blinking green buoy seen from the next window, and it is joined by a red one in the warm weather.

I’ve got tracks, telephone poles, and a cement factory, and a public launch parking area.  But it’s a wonderful view – not a complete 180 degrees, but close.  In addition to the island, there’s Round Top and Kaaterskill Pass.  Actually it is Kaaterskill Clove Pass.   There are beautiful sunsets and even more beautiful, the reflection of the sunrise in the morning.

I can watch the ripples, sometimes waves of the water and wonder about the currents.  Much has been written about the Muhhekunnetuk – the river that flows both ways, and has two spellings and has two pronunciations.

The pictures change by the minute.  I sometimes see geese with their heads under their wings taking a rest as they hitch a ride on a chunk of ice. I first hear the throbbing and then see the lego barges of red, white, blue and yellow floating by.  I see glorious cloud formations and mist and sometimes the fog comes in so thick I see nothing.  Every now and then the rays coming from the clouds are so outstanding and brilliant that I really believe there must be a God.

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I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.

Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I’ve got to constantly remind myself about that, rather than create posts with titles like the above.

The only time I had even a little bit of hesitancy about my view was when I first visited Olana, Frederick Church’s home.    That story is still in my well.

Living on the Tracks

If you’ve ever taken the train from New York City to Montreal you’ve passed a small cluster of houses midway between Rhinecliff and Hudson stations.  No one living there actually likes being on the tracks, yet no one would leave because of them.  Of course, having the Hudson River on the other side of the tracks does help.

Twice an hour most of the day, a train will go by, heralded by two long, one short, one long blasts of an air horn operated by a pushbutton or floor pedal.  The horn is hard to handle if you aren’t feeling well or have a headache, but otherwise, just a small interruption in a conversation.   Most residents report that they really don’t hear it most of the time.

Legislation passed in 1994 mandating soundings at public grade crossings.  There is a crossing to a small boat landing and picnic area across the tracks from this hamlet and hence the horn.  There is a crossing gate, the view both north and south is clear so that you can see the headlight of the train approaching, and there are only a handful of people who cross those tracks by car or foot every day, and most of them are regulars very aware of the danger.  It seems to me highly probable that the tracks are more dangerous up or down the track where people fish, walk their dogs, swim, or just seek privacy, and there is no gate for warning.  But there are no horns up and down the tracks.

Several years ago a group of residents of the hamlet initiated a movement to have the horn silenced — which has been done in numerous communities following a process initiated by the Federal Railroad Administration in 2005.  This FRA regulation states that certain intersections do not necessitate the sounding of horns.  Residents who lived inland from the trains did not agree – the sound of train whistles in the distance has a charm not appreciated by those who live less than 500 feet from the train.  The town voted to keep the whistle.

Nighttime brings a few freight trains, and they rumble along with no lights.  They do shake the house a little, but that can be comforting and after a bit of time they don’t interrupt sleep.  A newcomer to the area or an overnight guest might be rudely jolted from a dream.  It is important not to curse, and not to worry about falling back to sleep, and not to wait for the next one to come by.

The train has become a big part of both my real and fantasy life.  I imagine living in a model train landscape, in one of the little houses perched on a hill. At one end of the table are farms, at the other a few factories, in the middle a small town with a post office, school, and houses of all sizes and shapes. A little child comes and turns on the train and makes sure everything is in place and working. The trains go round and round.  I imagine walking down the steps of my house to the tracks and flagging down the train to go to go for a coffee up in Hudson. I think about the lonely late night passenger train and how it passes by at 12:37 even if there are no passengers on board.  I guess what is in those freight cars. It’s a great escape during those moments when the real world gets too scary, or it’s a picture book in process.

I fantasize about the engineer, pulling that cord, with his head looking out the window, and the steam pouring out of the whistle.  I make up a story — perhaps the short happy toot is a signal to a friend who lives in town, or a thank you to the couple that used to moon the trains from their hot tub.  Perhaps the longer shrill blasts of reality are a retaliatory response to a hamlet that sought to silence it.

Hurricane Irene and the rising of the river silenced the trains for a few days last year.  It re-confirmed the serenity of living close to and in touch with the Hudson.  Horn be damned.  I will enjoy what I have without complaining about the noise or worrying about what a high speed train corridor might mean.

Thank you to all who have posted information on trains and whistles on-line.  I hope I have used your sites in a way that pleases you.