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Adirondack Explorer

Thursday, March 8, 2018

APA slates hearings on railroad corridors

Tourist train near Saranac Lake. Photo by Susan Bibeau.

The Adirondack Park Agency’s board gave preliminary approval Thursday to an amendment to the State Land Master Plan that will enable the state to create a thirty-four-mile rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.

The board voted unanimously to send the proposed amendment to public hearings. It will vote again on the amendment after the hearings.

The hearings will be held at APA offices in Ray Brook at 7 p.m. April 11; at the View in Old Forge at 7 p.m. April 24; and at the Department of Environmental Conservation offices in Albany at 11 a.m. April 25.

The public may submit written comments on the proposal through May 7. Comments can be emailed to SLMP_comments@apa.ny.gov or posted to Kathy Regan, P.O. Box 99, Adirondack Park Agency, Ray Brook, NY 12977.

The APA is responding to a judge’s decision last fall that the state’s proposal to remove tracks and establish a multi-use recreational trail violated the State Land Master Plan.

The master plan defines the 119-mile Remsen-to-Lake Placid rail corridor as a Travel Corridor, The state is proposing to divide the corridor (which it owns) into two—an eighty-five-mile rail segment and a thirty-four-mile trail segment.

State officials had contended that the trail segment would remain part of the Travel Corridor even if the rails were removed. Retaining the Travel Corridor designation is important as it would enable the state to create a hardened bicycle trail with interpretive signs, bike racks, and other amenities not normally allowed in the Forest Preserve. However, acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main Jr. ruled against the state in a suit filed by the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society.

“The SLMP expressly defines travel corridors in terms of either automobile or railroad transportation,” Main wrote last September. “Notably absent is any reference to hiking trails, bicycle traffic, snowmobile traffic, or any other recognizable recreational use.”

The APA characterizes its proposed amendment as a “clarification” of the State Land Master Plan. It seeks to add a Railroad Corridor subcategory to the definition of Travel Corridor. Following is the full definition:

“A railroad corridor is the fee or easement lands that include a railbed for the Remsen-Lake Placid railroad and any future acquisition that may be considered for classification as a travel corridor, existing either (1) for the operation of rail cars, or (2) to serve as a rail trail.”

Notably, the definition could be applied to other railroad corridors that the state acquires in the future, including the line between North Creek and Tahawus where Iowa Pacific Holdings is storing empty tank cars—over the objections of state and local officials. Some observers want the state to take over this corridor.

In his September ruling, Justice Main found two other flaws in the state’s rail-trail plan:

  • Deed questions. During the lawsuit it was discovered that North Country Community College owns a stretch of tracks in Saranac Lake. The judge said title questions need to be cleared up.
  • Historic preservation. The rail corridor is on both the state and federal Registers of Historic Places. Consequently, the state needs to prepare a plan to mitigate damage to the historical resources. The judge said the plan submitted by the state was inadequate.

DEC Regional Director Bob Stegemann, who sits on the APA board, told the Explorer that DEC is working on addressing those two concerns as well. Neither is seen as a major obstacle.

The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society did not reply to a request to comment.

The railway society owns Adirondack Scenic Railroad, which is based in Utica. ASR operates seasonal tourist trains in the Old Forge area. It also had operated a similar train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake on a part of the corridor that the state wants to convert to a trail.

ASR wants the state to refurbish the entire corridor so it can run trains from Utica all the way to Lake Placid. In contrast, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA), another nonprofit group, had pushed for extending the trail from Lake Placid to the Old Forge region.

Many view the state’s proposal as a compromise. In addition to removing tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, the state wants to refurbish forty-five miles of unused tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake.

Tony Goodwin, an ARTA board member, said he hopes the state acts quickly to create the trail. “I don’t know what the next legal option is, but I would hope the state could go back to the judge and ask for a review of the case,” he said.

The New York State Snowmobile Association also supports removing the tracks as it will lengthen the snowmobiling season in the corridor. “We’d like it for the economic development in the area. We need it,” said Craig LaPlante, a vice president of the association.

 

Phil Brown

Phil Brown has been editing the Adirondack Explorer since 1999. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important. You can follow his adventures and his musings on the Adirondacks in the Explorer and on this blog.

One Response

  1. Adirondack Rail Trail Build it build it NOW!

    You’ve got to be kidding is right! There is a good reason the Rail status has not changed appreciably in 50 years. Snowmobiles, love’em or hate’em, have been the primary income for the largest portions in the Adirondacks since the 60’s? Ski hills are great, but they are not self sustaining. True, Snowmobiles can go almost anywhere, but they won’t. The best business comes from well maintained community connectors. Those who know Snowmobiling understand the difference. Bicycles? Read the articles man, in rail trail towns across the country they are known as wallets on wheels. There is a good reason why almost every hospitality business from Big Moose to Lake Placid have supported the trail. For the rail supporters this seems to be a religion, for me; business. If you don’t think this ($8 million not $11) will be money well spent, you don’t know business in the Adirondacks. Remember, the Snowmobile use could be immediate when the rails and ties are removed ($0 invested) unlike the trains that are stymied every time there is a glitch in the tracks. With expenditures to keep the Adirondack Scenic Railroad “on track” for somewhere on the order of $40 million dollars, even an avid train fan would have to question the viability of such a venture. Having worked for this Railroad for the 1980 Olympics and living in Beaver River where the corridor is a life line, you might say ” We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two”.
    http://www.theARTA.org

    http://www.adrtrail.pbwiki.com

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