Best of #StateReads: Why New Jersey’s Trains Flooded but New York’s Stayed Dry
By Daniel C. Vock, Staff Writer
This week’s collection of #StateReads explains how the decision by New Jersey’s transit agency left its trains far more damaged than those of other rail agencies in the area, why New Mexico is considering loosening environmental rules for oil drillers and how Maine’s governor ended a six-year process to prepare the state for global warming.
“New Jersey railway put trains in Sandy flood zone despite warnings” — Reuters
New Jersey Transit is struggling to restore service to commuters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in part because, unlike other transit agencies in the area, it stored some of its most valuable locomotives and passenger cars in a rail yard that flooded. A third of the agency’s locomotives and a quarter of its passenger cars were damaged as a result, write Janet Roberts, Ryan McNeill and Robin Respaut (@RobinRespaut). Forecasters had predicted that the low-lying rail yard, which is surrounded by wetlands, would flood. Indeed, salt water five feet deep flooded maintenance areas. In the yard, the water rose higher than the wheel wells of the train cars, damaging their electric systems, brakes, heating and air conditioning. The Reuters reporters note that other agencies, including the New York subway system, moved their trains to higher ground and avoided such widespread damage.
“N.M. is loosening drilling rules, bucking trends and riling ranchers” — Energy Wire
While other states tighten environmental rules for oil wells, New Mexico is heading in the opposite direction writes Mike Soraghan (@MikeSoraghan). New Mexico had only recently introduced policies designed to protect groundwater from contamination. In sensitive areas, the state required drillers to haul away the waste they produced when they bored through the earth. The oil and gas industry protested the rules almost immediately, and they helped support an ally, Republican Susana Martinez, in the 2010 gubernatorial election. Now that Martinez is governor, ranchers and environmentalists who recently fought for the stricter policies fear that her appointees will reverse the rules, in order to draw business from neighboring Texas.
“Allegations of sloppy work, bias, dishonesty dog Oregon State Police handwriting unit” — The Oregonian
The two-person team charged with analyzing handwriting samples for criminal cases in Oregon has been suspended while its work is reviewed, amid questions of whether the analysts were competent or did their work professionally, writes Bryan Denson (@Bryan_Denson). Denson used internal documents, obtained through public records requests, to describe the dysfunction in the handwriting unit of the Oregon State Police. Questions arose after analyst Christina Kelley reported that her boss, Ron Emmons, drew incorrect conclusions in a murder-for-hire case but did not tell Emmons directly. Emmons said Kelley lied to him about her own conclusions in the case, and the two accused each other of further improprieties. Outside experts are re-evaluating the unit’s work, and the FBI is now handling handwriting samples for the state.
“State puts climate change planning on shelf; towns fend for themselves” — Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting
After Maine Governor Paul LePage, a Republican, took office two years ago, his administration promptly stopped work on a six-year effort to help the state and its towns prepare for global warming, reports Kate McCormick. LePage’s Democratic predecessor ordered a comprehensive study of how Mainers could prepare for rising tides and frequent storms, along with cost estimates for those preparations. The LePage administration pulled the plug on that effort and removed previous studies from the state’s webpage. Darryl Brown, LePage’s first Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, told the Center, “We made a conscious decision that (climate change) would take a back seat.”
“State of disrepair: Money scarce for hundreds of Wisconsin's aging bridges” — The (Appleton) Post-Crescent
Wisconsin only slightly improved the conditions of its bridges in the four years following the 2007 Minneapolis bridge collapse, reports Doug Schneider (@PGDougSchneider). In recent years, Wisconsin has focused on fixing high-volume bridges, but those expensive repairs have left fewer dollars for small-scale repairs, Schneider explains. Seven hundred of the 1,200 bridges listed as “structurally deficient” at the end of 2011 were listed in the same condition in 2007.