By Phil Brown
A Franklin County judge has shot down the state’s plan to create a rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, but supporters say the project is not dead.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main Jr. ruled in late September that state agencies violated their own regulations in approving the rail trail last year.
The state’s plan calls for removing thirty-four miles of tracks and creating a trail for bicycling, walking, and snowmobiling. The plan was developed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation and approved by the Adirondack Park Agency (APA)
The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which had operated a tourist train on part of the line, sued all three agencies.
The railroad corridor is designated a Travel Corridor in the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. The APA, which administers the state-land plan, determined that the rail corridor would remain a Travel Corridor even if the tracks were removed. Main disagreed.
“The SLMP expressly defines travel corridors in terms of either automobile or railroad transportation,” the judge wrote. “Notably absent is any reference to hiking trails, bicycle traffic, snowmobile traffic, or any other cognizable recreational use.’
The railroad corridor is on both the state and national Registers of Historical Places. Consequently, the state must come up with a plan to mitigate the damage to the historical resource that would be caused by removal of the tracks. Main said the state failed to do so before approving the rail trail.
Finally, the judge noted that the state lacks ownership of a few parcels in the corridor. Although the state expects to enter into agreements with landowners, Main said the state should have resolved the title issues beforehand.
As of mid-October, state officials had not decided whether to appeal Main’s decision.
Another option would be for the state to correct the legal missteps cited by the judge. For example, the APA could amend the definition of Travel Corridor to include the rail trail and then approve the plan again.
Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA), which pushed for the trail, is urging the state to take steps to address the judge’s criticisms, but it also would support an appeal if the state goes that route.
Lee Keet, one of ARTA’s founders, said Main made a “fundamental error in equating a ‘railroad right of way’ with ‘a railroad.’” Indeed, the definition of a Travel Corridor in the State Land Master Plan refers only to a “right-of-way.” Elsewhere, however, the document refers to a “railroad line” and a “railroad.”
The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society praised Main’s decision as “balanced and objective.”
The entire rail corridor, which is owned by the state, stretches about 120 miles from Remsen to Lake Placid. The state proposes to divide it into a rail segment (eighty-six miles) and trail segment (thirty-four miles). If the plan is implemented, the society will no longer be able to run a tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. However, it could continue its operations in the O
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