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DOT decision on railroad corridor likely in December

By: KIM SMITH DEDAM

LAKE PLACID — The State Department of Transportation will likely have a decision on Remsen-Lake Placid Railroad Corridor management next month.

Four listening sessions in October drew a large response, according to DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald, who attended Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s gathering here this week.

RODE THE ROUTE

McDonald said that both she and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens traveled the length of the railroad tracks on Nov. 6.

“We went on the whole route,” she said, adding that they took a train from the start in Thendara and finished in a high-rail car in the northern section through Tupper Lake.

“We had to see it first-hand,” McDonald said. “We had to do it together. We plan to sit down in December and decide.”

The decision pending is whether DOT should open up for review the formal Unit Management Plan that governs use along the travel corridor.

The entire 119-mile railroad bed and track is owned by the state under the purview of DOT. Its specific land-use classification is Travel Corridor. And as such, access follows a specific land-use plan.

The Unit Management Plan was completed in 1996 and has not been reviewed since.

GOVERNOR DEMURS

Cuomo was also asked about the travel corridor and its use after his announcement on Wednesday. He told reporters that he had not taken a stance in the ongoing debate but looked to the regional conversation for answers.

“If it’s appropriate,” he said, “we will take a look at it.”

A key aspect of the existing use is that the entire corridor is designated for the same use — as a continuous railroad line — and not broken into pieces through the 10 towns that the tracks traverse.

The entire railroad line was also listed on both the national and state Historic Registers before the Management Plan went into effect.

The Adirondack Railroad Preservation Society runs Adirondack Scenic Railroad tours on either end of the historic track: in Utica and Thendara to the west; and in Saranac Lake and Lake Placid in the east.

RAIL-TRAIL PLAN DROPPED

In North Elba, an approved plan to create a rail-with-trail path from Lake Placid to Ray Brook has been abandoned.

The plan was put in motion some 12 years ago and had garnered $2.6 million for Phase 1 construction. The funding included $1.2 million in Scenic Byways monies requiring a 20 percent local match.

The North Elba Town Council’s decision was made as DOT began to look at reopening the Management Plan.

At about the same time, officials in North Elba had been advised by the Army Corps of Engineers that building a recreational path beside the tracks  through wetlands, as planned, would require extensive engineering and federal permits, putting project construction beyond grant-funding deadlines.

2,000-PLUS COMMENTS

After the fourth session, held in Tupper Lake, DOT spokesman Beau Duffy said they received “a very large number” of written comments about the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Management Plan.

He also said that breaking the corridor into different uses may be considered, should the review process continue.

On Thursday, DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Post had a more complete tally.

“DOT received more than 2,100 comments — verbal comments, written comments, letters and emails — related to the railroad corridor,” Post said.

UTICA SUPPORTS TRAIN

While North Elba, on the eastern end, looks to remove the tracks, the Town of Harrietstown, the Village of Saranac Lake and the Town of Tupper Lake have all asked DOT to reopen its planning process and sort out the potential best use of the corridor.

Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a grassroots group formed in Saranac Lake, has asked the state to create a recreational trail along the entire route.

Communities in Utica and Thendara on the western end, however, want to preserve the very active scenic railroad tours that bring thousands to their communities.

The Utica Common Council voted unanimously earlier this year to maintain railroad operations in their community.

The city’s resolution went so far as to suggest preservation of the entire railroad line: “The Utica Common Council deems rail service as a critical component to their Master Plan by the preservation and rehabilitation of all surviving rail infrastructure from Utica to Lake Placid in the Adirondacks.”

If DOT reopens formal Management Plan review, the process will include public hearings.

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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