PORTLAND, Maine — The trustee for the bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway wants to abandon property at Northern Maine Junction in Hermon that contains a pile of railroad ties treated with chemicals state and town officials believe may pose a long-term environmental threat.
The railroad’s trustee, attorney Robert Keach, has filed a motion seeking court approval to abandon the 5.5-acre property that contains piles of railroad ties treated with creosote to preserve the wood.
The most common type of creosote comes from coal tar, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer has found is likely carcinogenic to humans. Rats and mice that ingested small amounts of creosote over a long time developed kidney and liver problems, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection and town officials in Hermon have expressed concern about the railroad ties.
But Keach wrote that the railroad ties do not pose an imminent threat to human health and that continued ownership by the bankruptcy estate stands to take away from creditors for the railroad.
“The estate lacks sufficient resources to cover the considerable costs associated with maintenance or to address any potential environmental liability,” Keach wrote in a motion to abandon the property. “Further, the Hermon parcel does not produce any value for the state or its creditors. The Hermon parcel, however, poses no imminent threat to the health, safety or welfare of the public.”
Hermon Town Manager Roger Raymond said town officials are concerned about the possibility of springtime grass fires igniting the creosote-treated rail ties adjacent to the tracks, or of creosote leaching into the ground.
“We’re concerned that that area will catch on fire and that some of these ties will burn during the fire,” Raymond said.
Raymond said the town has shared its concerns about piles of railroad ties along tracks that run through the town. Hermon is home to the junction of the north-south line of the former Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway and the east-west line of Pan Am Railways.
The issue came up at a Town Council meeting months ago, Raymond said, and town officials have attempted to get in touch with the relevant owners of the railroad tracks and shared their concerns with the Maine DEP.
The railroad’s bankruptcy started after a massive oil train crash in 2013 on its line through Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which resulted in the death of 48 people. Those victims and their families have been offered a settlement to split $85.7 million ($111.2 million Canadian) for damages. Victims and other creditors are set to vote on the settlement package by Sept. 10.
Just more than one year ago, the useful assets of the railroad were sold to the New York-based Fortress Investment Group for $15.85 million, in a deal that excluded the 5.5-acre railroad tie yard.
Keach wrote the land is of no value to other potential buyers and that Fortress refused to take the parcel as part of its purchase agreement.
State environmental regulators this week asked for and received an extension to file a response to the request to abandon the potentially contaminated parcel of land and the related railroad ties stored there, noting it learned of the abandonment plan July 27.
The DEP has an Aug. 13 deadline to evaluate the abandonment request and prepare a response.