By Brenda Flanagan
“Every night, you hear the trains. Every night, you hear the whistles. Multiple times,” said Teaneck resident Art Vatsky.
Within a half mile of these train tracks live about 20,000 Teaneck residents, including Vatsky. He already knew CSX trains regularly haul sometimes volatile Bakken crude oil through 11 Bergen County towns.
But just recently Teaneck officials also learned these trains currently carry thick tar sand oil from Canada, and soon at least an additional 300 trainloads will carry that heavy, viscous oil south to Buckeye Partners terminal in Perth Amboy, where the DEP approved Buckeye’s request to ship almost 1.8 million gallons.
“Yeah, we want the jobs. Yeah, we want the investment. But you make a plan, you educate people and you have to invest up front, but then you’ll have a safe place,” Vatsky said.
“How come the safety of the community is not considered when a whole lot of money’s involved?” asked Teaneck Councilman Henry Pruitt.
Pruitt says the CSX trains still use the old “111” tank cars that are easily punctured. He says they’re not being phased out fast enough, and the DEP’s keeping towns in the dark.
“I don’t expect the trains to stop coming, but I do expect them to meet some specifications, and they’re not doing that,” Pruitt said.
“New Jersey’s DEP claimed a public comment period was not necessary because it was a minor modification, but it’s not really a minor modification,” said Sandra Meola.
Meola’s with the NY/NJ Baykeeper and says this is a big deal. Recall how workers struggled to clean up the Exxon Valdez spill, which also involved very thick oil? It’s not as explosive as Bakken crude, but “Tar sands are really heavy and if they’re spilled into the water, it’d be very difficult to clean up and our ecosystems would be at risk,” she said.
The DEP has cited security issues when refusing to release details, and says the federal government’s responsible for oil train safety, not the state. CSX has stated it’s upgrading its fleet of tank cars. And while emergency responders do have special foam throwers to fight oil fires, towns still feel dangerously out of the loop. Teaneck’s emergency response plan doesn’t even contain a railroad map.
“If it happened tonight, I don’t believe we’re ready,” said Vatsky.
“I don’t expect anything to happen until there’s an accident,” Pruitt said. “They’ll say, ‘Well, we’ve got to do something now because people have died.'”
The people in these towns feel very close to this issue. How close? About 15 feet to the Ambulance Corps. building. Close enough, they say, to demand more information.