By STEVE VIRKLER, Watertown Daily Times, link to original post
The Lewis County Development Corp. is seeking grant funding to take on a long-discussed rails-to-trails project that still may include a scenic railroad. “The concept was to preserve these rail lines,” said Lawrence L. Dolhof, corporation president, noting the railroad idea particularly spurred his group’s interest.
The development corporation has applied for funding through the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to undertake a project similar to one proposed by the county that eventually was derailed by a conceptual schism among legislators.
County officials earlier this year proposed buying the 10-mile Lowville and Beaver River Railroad line from Lowville to Croghan from the Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern Railroad Corp. for $425,000; the county then was to acquire the 17-mile Lowville Industrial Track from Lowville to West Carthage for $1.
Under the proposal, the corporation, a subsidiary of Genesee Valley Transportation, Batavia, was to remove tracks from the donated spur so it could be developed as a recreational trail, with the Lowville-to-Croghan spur remaining intact to allow the Railway Historical Society of Northern New York possibly to operate a scenic railroad from its depot in Croghan.
The county was to use a $450,000 Environmental Protection Fund grant, awarded in 2010, for the purchase.
While most legislators didn’t seem opposed to the rail acquisition itself, some were concerned about possible county expenses and problems following the purchase and wished to give local municipalities input on usage and limit all-terrain-vehicle usage on any trails. Some property owners along the lines also questioned how trails would be managed to avoid disruptions to neighbors.
Lawmakers were unable to reach a suitable compromise on motorized-vehicle restrictions and, in May, a majority of lawmakers chose to scrap the idea as a county project and turn down the state funding.
While the state grant could not be transferred from the county to the LCDC, the nonprofit corporation could apply for project funding through the same grant program, Mr. Dolhof said. “The whole thing hinges on the grant,” he said.
LCDC discussions on the project have been limited, given that the grant funding is not a certainty, Mr. Dolhof said. However, he did suggest that part of the group’s rationale to consider the project was to keep alive the potential for a scenic railroad.
John S. Herbrand, GVT’s secretary and general counsel, at an informational session in late March said that if the proposed deal with the county ultimately fell through, the rail company likely would remove all of the rails on both lines for scrap metal. The company then could either hold the land or seek out a nonprofit agency, such as a snowmobile or ATV club, willing to take over the corridors for trail use.
GVT would presumably try to rid itself of the lines before the end of 2013, when a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on them expires. The company now pays little to no taxes on the rail property, since the PILOT is based on a percentage of revenue generated by the lines rather than the actual land value. “Somebody’s going to end up with title to it,” Mr. Dolhof said.
Having a local entity take over the railroad property would be preferable to an outside developer buying it and making money by selling easement rights, as has happened elsewhere, he said.