Late January of this year in Central New York was unusually mild. Linda, dog Bear and I were happy to continue our morning walks in and around historic Herkimer Village.
On one of those winter walks, we discovered Herkimer’s abundant drug traffickers and manufacturers had also taken advantage of the nice weather to cook and distribute meth from beneath the safety of a major CSX railway bridge. The bridge passes over West Canada Creek, about 1/4 mile from its confluence with the Mohawk River. It carries about a thousand chemical tanker cars a day. The criminals had no idea and even less concern for the catastrophe they could have unleashed.
Drug traffickers had been largely absent from Pleasant Avenue, Herkimer’s principal drug street, since mid-November, after we published a series of videos documenting and analyzing one night’s drug trafficking along Pleasant Avenue, and shared it with the New York State Police. (With the drug traffickers mostly gone, Pleasant Avenue is again looking pleasant.)
Herkimer Meth Bridge area
The area around the railway bridge is not the Great North Wood. It lies within the boundaries of the Village of Herkimer and within the jurisdiction of the Herkimer Police.
A well-traveled public path runs beneath the bridge, paralleling West Canada Creek and a few hundred yards later, both it and the Mohawk River, moving down a narrowing spit of land between the two to their confluence, known locally as The Point. (West Canada Creek at the bridge is wider than many rivers.)
herkimer meth makers move – a bit
Driven from Herkimer Village by the state and the feds, Herkimer’s meth makers had brazenly set up a semi-permanent encampment in plain sight of the public path, hidden from aerial observation by the CSX railroad bridge. As the Herkimer Police had never troubled them in the village itself, their only concern would have been the New York State Police and the DEA, who probably relied heavily on aerial observation for activities outside the village.
The path under the bridge gets a lot of foot traffic–it’s the remains of an old road predating the Erie Canal, and a pleasant walk or easy ATV drive to The Point. Herkimites have long known to mind their own business when signs of drug and child trafficking appear, or risk an intimidating visit from the Herkimer Police or nighttime visits from neighbors. And despite its closeness to the village proper, no one goes to the CSX railway bridge area after dark.
For ease of transport, the bridge could be quickly reached by vehicle from Herkimer’s East State Street via a dirt road running past an adjacent cornfield and flood control levee. We’d noticed the tent shown in the below photo for about a month, but hadn’t given it much mind. It was just another feature of the desolation zone near the railway bridge, a bleak and eerie place scattered with the derbies of stunted lives and failed hopes.
herkimer’s eerie desolation zone
Herkimer meth bridge encampment
When we’d last noticed the tent, there’d been no large plastic tarp, no translucent storage box filled with what appeared to small plastic envelopes of some crystalline substance, nor discards typically used in methamphetamine production. Whatever heat source was used for a night’s meth cook could have easily been removed by pickup truck.
We didn’t look to see if there was anyone in the tent, but thought if we opened the plastic box, we might find out. We’d seen identical boxes confiscated by the New York State Police during an early morning drug raid on Herkimer’s Pleasant Avenue. Also, it seemed likely someone might soon be by to pick up the box of valuable goods. So we left.
Exchange with the New York State Police
I emailed a narrative and a raft of photos of the encampment to the New York State Police command center in Albany. I noted that one of the photos indicated possible scorching of an adjacent concrete bridge abutment, adding:
The bridge is well-built and itself probably impervious to a typical meth explosion, IMO. But any explosion under the bridge could trigger catastrophic consequences: e.g., a panicked train operator jamming on the brakes at an explosion and the sight of [fire] erupting from beneath the bridge could trigger a derailment. As you’re aware, hundreds of tanker cars filled with deadly, highly volatile chemicals cross that bridge daily. Were one or more of them to fall into West Canada Creek so near its confluence with the Mohawk, it could cause an environmental cataclysm from here down to NYC. Our village leaders often speak of “putting Herkimer on the map.” That would do it.
The state police quickly replied, asking me not to say anything until they could deploy resources. Which they did. I’ve kept silent till now, but if you look up at night sky you’ll see a solution is in place, providing comprehensive surveillance of the bridge, local waterways and Herkimer.
I sent a copy of my email to the state police and the photos to an old friend from Army Intelligence, Night Court. (“Some justice is best meted out in the dark.”)
Night Court has a key role in US counter-terrorism. I thought he should know that while all eyes are elsewhere, meth heads in Herkimer New York
had put a major railway bridge and the Hudson River watershed at risk of an ecological 9/11. What damage, I asked, could people who knew what they were doing cause? “It’s the Wild West here. Deadwood had more law and order than Herkimer. And it’s the backdoor to NYC and the rest of America.”
I was confident that the New York State Police and DEA would deal with immediate threat with their usual efficiency, but release of counter-terrorism funds–a bottomless treasure chest–to expand their operations might help provide the resources necessary for a permanent solution. Not that they’d be shy to ask, but if anyone could help catalyze that, it would be Night Court. The US takes any threat to its rail and waterways very seriously, especially since 9/11, and the Herkimer Meth Bridge represented both.
Night Court wrote back:
You might want to invest in a MAC 10. That’s dangerous work for someone of our age. [He has long enjoyed pushing my buttons.]
Speak for yourself, Night Court! I’m not entirely convinced you’re always in that nice office.
There seems to be a notion that we dodder about in the woods, looking for stuff. We don’t. Those pictures were taken along a popular trail from the village to the point of land where West Canada Creek and the Mohawk meet. It’s about a ½ mile from our home and Herkimer Village proper.
I added that we would be going back along that public trail to the bridge in a few days. And nothing, as our neighbors can attest, stops us from asserting our right of way.
Only later did I wonder if Night Court had known what we’d be walking into.