New York agency close to redefining travel corridors; impact may fall on Adirondack railroad

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Kathleen Regan, Adirondack Park Agency deputy director of planning, addresses the agency board on an amendment that would enable New York State to place trails on top of the right-of-way now occupied, in part, by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.
Dan Kittay
Adirondack Scenic Railroad's Lake Placid, N.Y., depot this week.
Dan Kittay
SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. — New York State's Adirondack Park Agency Thursday moved a step closer to allowing removal of tracks from a portion of the Remsen-Lake Placid line operated by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.

The agency's State Land Committee voted unanimously to approve the recommended amendment to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan that would add "rail trail" to the accepted uses of land designated as a travel corridor. The previous language included highway and railroad, only. The full agency board will vote on the amendment today.

The new language would apply to the entire line, which includes the 34-mile section that is the focus of the current dispute. It would also apply to any other railroad the state owns or may acquire in the future, says Kathleen Regan, the agency's deputy director of planning.

"We're not mandating that the rails be removed," says Regan.

The new language allows for rails, rail trails, or rails with trails, she says.

Regan briefed the agency board on the process the agency used to develop the amendment.

There were three public hearings between March and May of this year, at which 32 people spoke. The agency also received 583 letters expressing opinions, Regan says.

"The majority of the comments received favored one alternative over another based on the belief that some alternatives mandated the removal of rails, and that others mandated that they stay. That was inaccurate, and that might have been a fault of ours for not explaining it well," she said. "A lot of the comments said 'keep the rails,' or 'get rid of the rails.' It was very emotional and personal to have people feel that way."

In response to questions from board members, agency Senior Attorney Elizabeth Phillips referred to the 2017 ruling from Judge Robert Main Jr., which said that the state Department of Environmental Conservation's 2016 proposal to remove the 34-mile section between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid was not valid because "rail trail" was not in the definition of rail corridor.

"We've amended the definition following his ruling so that if the department of comes back to us with a new [master plan], asking to do what they did in 2016," that plan would be in compliance with the "travel corridor" language.

If the amendment passes the full board on Friday, as expected, it will then be sent to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who will decide whether to make another attempt to convert the land, or present a different plan, says agency representative Keith McKeever.

Tony Goodwin, a founding director of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, which supports removing rails from the 34-mile segment, attended the meeting and was pleased at the outcome.

"It's about what I expected," Goodwin says.

Goodwin says he believes that the state will ultimately try to implement a new version of the 2016 plan.

A railroad representative could not be reached for comment.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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