by Chris Morris, North Country Public Radio
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.
A resolution passed at a board meeting last week documents what most board members have been saying all along. The council doesn’t think the Adirondack Scenic Railroad provides much economic benefit to North Elba and it does believe a recreational trail would be an improvement. But until now, the board hadn’t sealed its opposition with a vote.
In August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the decision about the best use of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor should be made on a regional level through the North Country Regional Economic Development Council.
“I’ll look for guidance from the regional economic development council to resolve what the best plan is, and then anyway we can help execute that plan, we will,” Cuomo said.
North Elba Councilman Bob Miller said last week he wanted the town board to go on the record and let the governor know what it thinks. Here’s Miller reading from the resolution he wrote:
“The North Elba Town Council respectfully requests that the train tracks currently in the travel corridor, within the town of North Elba, be removed. 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.”
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. Councilman Jack Favro stressed that the main objective is to build a recreational pathway between Lake Placid and SaranacLake. “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 SaranacLake.”
Economic development council co-chair Garry Douglas is a vocal railroad supporter. Trail advocates like Jim McCulley of Lake Placid say that’s led elected leaders to stay quiet about their thoughts on the railroad.
McCulley said Lake Placid has benefited 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.
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said that thought crossed his mind. He voted against the resolution, even though he would prefer to see the train tracks removed. “I would say yeah, it could be a concern,” he said. “I mean it’s certainly something I took under consideration.”
Douglassaid in an email that the awarding of grants is an objective process. He said council members don’t take part in scoring or voting on projects when there is a conflict of interest.
Politi also questioned the timing of last week’s vote. 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. “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.”
Village trustees fromSaranacLakerode the rails fromSaranacLaketoTupperLakelast week to examine their condition and the possibility of a parallel trail. That board hasn’t taken a public stance on the issue.