Back in May 2016, the Adirondack Park Agency (APA), the NYS Departments of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Transportation (DOT), and Gov. Cuomo had all approved of a plan to remove 34 miles of historic railroad track to build a recreational rail-trail. Now, the future of the rail-trail is unknown due to multiple delays and issues that must be resolved.
Rail-Trail Controversy Recap
New York State’s plan is to remove 34 miles of railroad track between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake in favor of a multi-use trail. In addition, the state would rehabilitate 45 miles of railroad track between Big Moose and Tupper Lake, which hasn’t seen as much use.
By removing the 34 miles of railroad track, the Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society (ARPS) would have to shut down its seasonal rail service between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
In defense of saving the railroad, the ARPS sued the APA, the DEC, and the DOT because the group believed a more comprehensive economic and environmental review was necessary. That court case is ongoing, but a few months ago, another major issue was discovered.
Although most of the 120-mile railroad corridor belongs to New York State, the state does not own two parcels of land in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. The Saranac Lake parcel is owned by Essex County, Franklin County, and North Country Community College, and the Lake Placid parcel is owned by the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society.
Judge Delays His Ruling
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main is the one in charge of the rail-trail court case. On February 7, Main officially delayed his ruling on the matter until more information can be provided about land ownership and other issues. The main issues brought up included the following:
- Land Ownership – The owners of the two parcels are willing to have the state remove the tracks and build the rail-trail on their property. However, the latest question is whether the state’s right-of-way on the properties allows for a recreational trail. Right-of-way is the legal right to pass through a property owned by another. The judge wants to know if the state’s right-of-way for the parcels is just for a railroad or for a recreational trail too.
- Historic-Preservation Law – In New York State, the historic-preservation law prevents projects from having an adverse effect on historic sites. The 120-mile railroad corridor is on the State and National Register of Historic Places. The state plans to rehabilitate railroad buildings and add new educational signs, but the 34 miles of track would be removed. The judge requires more information about how the state will comply with the law.
- Travel Corridor Questions – Another legal issue is whether adding a recreational trail would violate the State Land Master Plan. The master plan designates the 120-mile railroad corridor as a Travel Corridor. If a recreational trail is added, the question is if that would violate the corridor’s designation.
- Economic Review – The ARPS wants a new study conducted concerning the economic benefits of the railroad vs a rail-trail. The group wants to fully determine if dividing the corridor would be better economically than having rail service throughout it.
During the court hearing, Main gave New York State until March 8 to provide more information about the land ownership and historic-preservation law issues. The ARPS will have until March 22 to respond.
Right now, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight for the rail-trail project. What are your thoughts on how the controversy has turned out?
- Adirondack Almanack – Judge Seeks More Info In Rail-Trail Lawsuit