By PHIL BROWN
The state of New York is restarting the regulatory process necessary to create a 34-mile rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, and the public has until Aug. 12 to weigh in on the issues that should be considered in assessing the controversial plan.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Transportation developed the rail-trail plan in 2016, but the following year a judge blocked its implementation.
Since the judge’s decision, DEC has taken steps to address the judge’s concerns and now is renewing efforts to amend the unit management plan (UMP) for the state-owned rail corridor, which extends from Remsen (north of Utica) to Lake Placid.
As part of the UMP amendment, DEC and DOT intend to prepare an environmental impact statement, with the first step being the creation of a “scoping document” that sets forth the issues to be addressed.
DEC’s draft scoping document, released in June, proposes to look at the project’s impacts on the local economy and on environmental and historical resources as well as its recreational potential. DEC proposes to weigh three options:
—Retaining or restoring rail service throughout the 119-mile corridor, creating recreational trails alongside the rails where possible.
—Replacing the tracks with a rail trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and refurbishing the tracks south of Tupper Lake.
—Taking no action.
DEC is taking comments through Aug. 12 on the draft scoping document. Presumably, there will be other opportunities for public input as the state develops the UMP amendment.
The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society sued the state over the original rail-trail plan. In September 2017, State Supreme Justice Robert G. Main Jr. decided in the railroad’s favor, ruling that the proposal violated the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
The Remsen-Lake Placid rail corridor is identified as a “travel corridor” in the master plan. At issue was whether it would still fit the definition of a travel corridor if its tracks were removed.
“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 Adirondack Park Agency has since revised the definition of travel corridors to accommodate the proposed rail trail.
DEC has taken steps to address the judge’s other concerns. The department has acquired sections of the corridor in Saranac Lake that were owned by North Country Community College, and it is developing a plan to mitigate damage to historical resources along the corridor, which is on the state and federal registers of historical places.
Comments on the scoping document should be sent to:
Natural Resources Planner
NYS DEC 625 Broadway, 5th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-4254