The North Elba town board has officially requested that the state remove the train tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake to make the construction of a multi-use recreational trail cheaper and more efficient.
The resolution, which passed by a 3-2 vote at the Tuesday, Sept. 11 meeting in Saranac Lake, documents what most board members have been saying all along. They don't think the Adirondack Scenic Railroad provides much economic benefit to North Elba and do think a recreational trail would be an improvement. But until now, the board hadn't sealed its opposition with a vote.
Councilmen Bob Miller, Jack Favro and Jay Rand voted for the resolution, with Derek Doty and Supervisor Roby Politi opposed.
Other municipal boards in the Tri-Lakes region have wrestled with whether to support or oppose the efforts of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a group that wants the tracks removed to build a year-round trail for cyclists, snowmobilers, hikers and other users. North Elba is the first to publicly oppose the train.
"The North Elba Town Council respectfully requests that the train tracks currently in the travel corridor, within the town of North Elba, be removed," said Miller, reading from a resolution he wrote. "While the town council has supported building a recreational path next to the railroad tracks it would be preferable that the tracks, again, be removed."
Miller said he wrote the resolution in response to a meeting last month during which ARTA members asked the board to support their cause. Most of the board expressed support for the group, but they didn't pass a resolution.
Then on Aug. 29, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, responding to this reporter's question, said the decision about the best use of the rail corridor should be made on a regional level through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. So Miller said he thought now is the time for the town to take an official stance.
The resolution states that the corridor is underused and that the cost for North Elba's planned parallel trail currently exceeds $4 million. Miller said that cost would be significantly less if the tracks were gone.
"As a fiscal conservative, I just think what we're doing is wasteful, and I need to tell the governor how I feel," he said. "And I understand that that may cause difficulty for some people, and that's fine. I respect that."
The resolution also notes that the town will continue with its current plan if it's not feasible to pull up the tracks. Favro stressed that the main objective is to build a recreational pathway between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
"We're very grateful for all the grant money we got from everybody and support we've got for the bike path," he said, "but whether the tracks are there or not, we're building a bike path. I believe it's probably a year away, a year-and-a-half away, but we're moving in that direction and we're going to continue. We're going to build a bike path to Saranac Lake."
Doty explained his no vote, saying projected economic impacts of an expanded tourist train and a recreational trail are just speculation.
"In my mind, our bike path along the tracks is going to be a barometer to just what kind of actual traffic there's going to be," he said.
Some trail supporters, like ARTA member Jim McCulley, who also leads the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club, have suggested that NCREDC co-chair Garry Douglas' support of rail operations has resulted in a hesitance on the part of elected leaders to oppose the railroad. McCulley noted that Lake Placid has benefitted from state and federal grants, and as one of the economic council's leaders, Douglas has a lot of pull when it comes to awarding state funds.
"I would say yeah, it could be a concern," Politi said. "I mean it's certainly something I took under consideration."
"I think it's a legitimate concern for anyone," McCulley said. "We can see from his letters to the Tupper Lake Free Press that (Douglas) is an ardent train supporter whether it's going to benefit the economy of the Adirondacks or not."
In a letter to the Tupper Lake Free Press, prior to a June 17 public forum on the rail corridor held in Tupper Lake, Douglas urged rail supporters to "turn out in force" and promote railroad preservation and rehabilitation.
Douglas said the awarding of grants is an objective process.
"Projects are not scored or selected in any other manner," he wrote in an email. "And no member participates in any matter they have a conflict with and the Co-Chairs do not take part in scoring or project voting at all. That's why we won Best Plan status and more than $103 million last year, and it's why we are in very good stead going into this year's round.
"While we won't be releasing a Priority Project list until after we submit on Friday, I expect the tri-lakes in particular will have reason to be pleased with how this process has worked."
Politi, voting against the resolution, questioned its timing. The board recently entered into memorandums of understanding with the state Department of Transportation and Adirondack North Country Association to move forward with the parallel trail. The town has $4.3 million in federal funding for the project.
Politi also said he's not convinced the state would remove the rails.
"Even if they decided to take the rails out today, it wouldn't happen, in my opinion, for a long time," he said. "I just don't want to jeopardize the bird in hand."
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.