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Town board struggles with trail project issues

May 27, 2013

LAKE PLACID - Some unexpected hurdles, including a potential federal permitting requirement, are slowing down momentum on the town of North Elba's recreational trail project.

At the May 14 meeting, Chuck Damp, a former North Elba councilman who has been helping the town with its trail project, updated the town board on a proposed engineering contract as well as how much money has been raised for the local share of the project.

"We still have a contract on the table for Phase II engineering," Damp said. "At this point, we're in a hurry up and wait pattern on that until we tell the engineers they can move forward."

The two-part project includes construction of a multi-use recreational trail alongside the railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. The first part - Phase I - would take the trail from Old Military Road in Lake Placid to the Scarface Mountain trailhead in Ray Brook, while the second part - Phase II - would run from Ray Brook to Brandy Brook Avenue in Saranac Lake.

Creighton Manning LLP, an engineering firm out of Albany, was hired last fall to perform work for the first phase of the project at a cost of no more than $224,707. That firm may also do engineering work for Phase II, but a contract hasn't been signed.

So far, the town has spent just over $300,000 on the project. Councilman Bob Miller said he's concerned about spending anymore money until the town is sure the project can be completed with available funding.

"Are we going to have to invest in the engineering of Phase II before we know for sure if we can do Phase I?" he asked.

"In other words, is it possible to delay the signing of the Phase II contract until such time that we've received RFPs (for Phase I)?" Supervisor Roby Politi asked.

Damp said a few more pieces need to fall into place before the town can issue a request for proposals for Phase I construction, including a possible federal wetlands permit.

"At the last minute, the feds that are involved in this said we may be subject to a site-specific federal wetlands permit as opposed to a national rail corridor permit that they've granted in the past," he said. "The contention by state DOT and engineers is this should be subject to the federal rail corridor standard wetlands permit.

"We've gone through one of the most rigorous wetlands scrutinies that you've got out there through the (state Adirondack Park Agency), so why do it again?"

Damp said the project could get delayed if the federal wetlands permit is required. To hold to the project's current timeline, the permit issues would need to be worked out with the next two weeks, he said. It could be another six weeks before the town can issue bid specifications for construction, Damp said, and then companies have another 30 days to respond.

"To me, it would be a sign of good faith if we signed (the contract) with a 10-week delay," he said. "That at least confirms (to Creighton Manning) that we're planning on moving forward."

Damp and Miller recently met with state Department of Transportation officials to discuss the town's "desire to get phase two done.

"The numbers are coming in as such that it would indicate that our desire to get the four or so miles from Ray Brook to Saranac Lake, with the monies that are in the pipeline now, will be a challenge," Damp said. "We did discuss some alternative approaches with DOT and they did not object to being creative."

The town may need look at alternative approaches to finishing the trail from Ray Brook to Saranac Lake. Damp said it might make sense to reroute the trail through a fishing access point to Old Ray Brook Road and then to Pendergast Road and back to the rail corridor.

"And really just focus on signage and that type of thing in that area as opposed to actually spending dollars to stay within the corridor," he said.

Damp said Pendergast Road has been used as a de facto town road to get to the railroad tracks.

"After that, it appears to be a private road, which is fully within the 100-foot right-of-way of the railroad corridor," he said.

One of the big questions about the project as it currently stands is the local match. Politi noted that if the project doesn't move forward, the town must pay back the federal money that has already been spent.

"You don't want to get into a situation where you start down the road, and then you realize you can't afford it and don't get it accomplished, and then you've got to pay the money back," he said.

The project needs about $750,000 in local matching funds. Damp said he's confident the town can raise that amount, although he didn't say how much has been raised so far.

Lake Placid resident Jim McCulley, who attended Tuesday's meeting, asked the board how much money the town has for the project. For Phase I, the town has $2.6 million, Politi said. To go from Ray Brook to Saranac Lake, the town has $1.8 million. Those figures include the local match.

McCulley said the construction bids will "make or break the whole deal." He said he thinks the project costs could be substantially higher.

As the discussion came to a close, Damp noted that the Adirondack Scenic Railroad will aid the town with in-kind services. Meanwhile, a naming contest for the trail will wrap up on June 1. The contest is being sponsored by the Adirondack North Country Association.

Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or cmorris@



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