Adirondack Park Agency amends definitions to include trails in travel corridors

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SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. — While New York State came one step closer Friday to achieving its goal of removing some of the tracks used by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, there are hurdles remaining before any such plan could be implemented.

"It was not a surprise. It doesn't mean anything yet," says Bill Branson, board president of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society Inc., which operates the railroad. The 2017 legal decision by Judge Robert Main Jr., which halted the state's 2016 plan to remove the tracks and create a rail trail, cited the state's definition of rail corridor as inconsistent with the plan. While Friday's action amended the definition, Branson notes that the decision also cited issues with whether the state had title to all of the land in question.

In addition to some properties around Saranac Lake, "it appears there are questions about land ownership in Lake Clear, among other places, and not just a few of those. They need to clear up the title issues," Branson says.

The judge had also noted issues of historical preservation, which will need to be addressed by the state, he adds.

"They've got a lot of things to do before they can touch anything," Bramson says.

The Adirondack Park Agency board voted unanimously to amend the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, which governs the state-owned tracks that the railroad leases for its operations. The amendments included the addition of a rail trail to the definition of rail corridor. The amendments also changed the definition of the entire 119-mile Remsen-Lake Placid Corridor from "... a series of linear, State-owned parcels..." to land that "... includes state-owned parcels, and parcels to be acquired by the State within the corridor..."

Branson says that some of the titles of privately owned property along the route contain provisions saying that if there are no railroad tracks on the land, the easement granted to the state for the railroad no longer exists.

"If what we're being told is true, it's going to be very costly and take a lot of time to negotiate with all these owners, assuming they're even willing to sell."

Some of the tracks go through areas near private beaches, and wilderness plots near large estates.

Other parts of the amendments govern which types of recreational uses, including powered vehicles, would be allowed in an area where tracks do not exist.

While the amendments do not require that tracks be removed, they potentially give new life to the state's plans. Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a news release that the new language will allow the state "to improve and enhance these critical travel corridors to accommodate and support increased recreational use..."

At the board's State Land Committee meeting on Thursday, board member William Thomas had asked a number of questions about the proposed amendments, and the potential economic impact of removing the tracks. Prior to the full board meeting on Friday, Thomas says his concerns had been addressed by an Adirondack agency staff presentation, although he notes that "once the tracks are removed, they are never coming back."

The degree of emotion expressed in the public comments received by the agency prior to the meeting shows that railroads are important to a lot of people, and made the decision "difficult," he says. Thomas voted for the proposal.

The amendments are expected to be sent to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in early January, says agency representative Keith McKeever. Cuomo and other state officials will decide whether to restart the process of getting the rail trail conversion approved.

"As long as they do whatever they're doing lawfully, then fine. We called them out the first time around because what they did was unlawful. And we were right. Whatever it is they choose to do, we assume they will do a better job this time than they did the first time," says Branson.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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