Lowey Highlights Impact of a Homeland Security Shutdown on Rockland Rail Safety

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WEST NYACK, NY – Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey (Westchester/Rockland), the Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, today was joined by Rockland County Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe, Rockland County Undersheriff Robert Van Cura, Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack, Sloatsburg Mayor Carl Wright, Clarkstown Police Chief Michael Sullivan, and concerned parent Sarah McTasney to highlight the consequences that inadequate funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would have on local emergency personnel responding to a rail accident or other security incident in the Lower Hudson Valley.

“Playing politics with Americans’ security is a dangerous game,” said Lowey. “Recent and very public rail accidents have highlighted how an inadequate Homeland Security funding bill would have serious consequences for our local emergency personnel who would respond to a catastrophic railway accident. It is time to end this charade, and pass the clean DHS funding bill that I introduced last week in the House of Representatives.”

After a bipartisan group of House and Senate negotiators agreed to 2015 spending bill for DHS last year, Republicans refused to allow it to be enacted and insisted that only temporary funding be provided in an effort to dismantle the President’s executive action on immigration. The temporary funding is set to expire on February 27, setting the stage for the possibility of a shutdown or additional temporary funding, both of which would be problematic for first responders in Rockland. To ensure assistance quickly flows to communities in New York and elsewhere, Lowey and a colleague introduced a clean DHS funding bill that provides funds for a full year, is free of poison-pill immigration riders, and has 192 cosponsors.

The derailment of train cars carrying crude oil on February 16, 2015, caused massive explosions in West Virginia, and was another example of the danger of transporting crude oil, which occurs on freight lines in Rockland County, and the need to prepare and train first responders for HazMat incidents. Local emergency personnel are the first on the scene to help save lives, but without a full-year funding bill, first responders in Rockland County will not receive more than the $1 million that was expected to be awarded to them in 2015.

·         In 2014, the County received $122,627 for the Emergency Management Preparedness Grant and $142,000 for HazMat grants. These investments for 2015 are on hold.

·         During the last two years, firefighters and EMTs in New York’s 17th Congressional District received $489,000 from the federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant for operations and safety. New grants for 2015 couldn’t be awarded without full-year DHS funding.

·         Last week, two Coast Guard cutters had to rescue a tugboat that got stuck on an iced-over Hudson River near West Point. In the event of a shutdown, the Coast Guard personnel who helped rescue the tugboat will continue working, but would not have any guarantee that they would be paid.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson this past weekend highlighted that the Mall of America, a sprawling shopping complex outside of Minneapolis, MN, was targeted for a terrorist attack in a video posted by a radical Islamist group. Anything but a full-year DHS funding bill would hamper local first responders if similar attacks were carried out at public places in Rockland, including the Palisades Mall.

Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco said,“We are at a period in time where the threat from terrorism is ever present and the risk from accidents associated with the transportation of crude oil seemingly occurs too often.  The funding provided through the United States Department Homeland Security is essential to public safety and the all-hazards approach to emergency management that Rockland’s First Responder community employs to keep our County safe.  I implore Congress to pass full year funding for DHS.”

“The number of CSX trains transporting crude oil through Rockland County has doubled in the last year, from approximately 40 trains a day to 80 trains a day,” said Clarkstown Supervisor Alex Gromack.  “The potential damage a crude oil train derailment or accident could have on our community is catastrophic. Our emergency responders need federal funding to prepare and respond to these types of events.”

Rockland County Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe thanked Congresswoman Lowey for her persistent advocacy with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and Sheriff Falco for being ahead of the curve by putting life-saving communication procedures with the railroad in place. Wolfe pointed out that an accident near the Lake Deforest reservoir would devastate the public drinking water supply because in the best case scenario only 15 percent of the crude oil that’s lost in an explosion can be recovered. “With miles of CSX track carrying oil trains through Rockland, the recent oil tanker explosion in West Virginia forces us to consider the unimaginable. The loss of one life would be horrific,” said Wolfe. “The U.S. Department of Transportation must require the ultimate in safety standards in order to prevent disasters across our nation, where thousands of communities like ours lay vulnerable to oil train disasters.”

“Given that serious train accidents are happening on average of once every seven weeks, and that one rail car of crude oil contains the energy equivalent of two million sticks of dynamite, we need to act now to protect our children, our first responders, and our communities,” said concerned parent Sarah McTasney of West Nyack. “These crude oil trains are passing right through the center of our lives and one derailment, accident, or explosion is one too many. I tell my kids that safety is non-negotiable–how can I explain to them that entire industries don’t care about it?”

To improve rail safety locally, Lowey secured funding for an overpass at a dangerous railroad crossing at Short Clove Road in Haverstraw, obtained federal funds for Quiet Zones in Rockland County, and helped secure funding to widen and repair local roads and bridges like the Route 120 Bridge in Chappaqua in Westchester County.

After sending letters to the U.S. DOT and President Obama, Lowey has continued to advocate for stronger safety standards for tank cars and the transport of crude oil.

Lowey has been fighting for increased investments in the country’s crumbling infrastructure – including better maintenance and upkeep of rail networks – in her role as Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee.


Richard Gandon is the Owner and Publisher of hyper-local community news websites. With a background in financial services, sales and training, he bring a unique perspective to journalism. He hosts a bi-monthly radio show and is a professional photographer.