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Saranac Lake board wants state to revisit rail plan

October 3, 2012

SARANAC LAKE - The village Board of Trustees has asked the state to reopen the management plan for the bitterly contested railroad corridor that goes through Saranac Lake.

In a 3-0 vote at its Monday, Sept. 24 meeting, the board agreed to petition the state Department of Transportation and state Department of Environmental Conservation "to quickly review and update the railway corridor unit management plan for the corridor extending from Utica to Lake Placid."

Although the resolution names Utica as the southern end point for the corridor, the current management plan actually doesn't go that far; it covers the corridor between Lake Placid and Remsen, a distance of nearly 120 miles.

The village's resolution notes correctly, however, that the management plan hasn't been updated since it was completed in 1995. The resolution says, "there exist the possibilities of other positive coordinated uses of the corridor (that) will enhance the economic vitality of the Adirondack region." It also says the process of updating the management plan, which would include public hearings, would run in a "proscribed and unbiased way that would negate the need for localities such as the town of Harrietstown or village of Saranac Lake to conduct their own fact-finding process."

Trustee Allie Pelletieri asked whether that meant the village was giving up its voice in the debate.

"I support this, but I'd hate to close the door on us not taking comments or not taking information," Pelletieri said.

Village Mayor Clyde Rabideau said the resolution "doesn't negate us from doing anything."

"In order for anything to happen to the railway, this has to be updated regardless of what we do," Rabideau said. "It hasn't been done in 17 years, and it's my information that it's supposed to be done every five years."

The board's decision comes amid what's been a fierce debate over the best use of the rail corridor. A group called Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates has been pushing to remove the railroad tracks between Saranac Lake and Old Forge so the corridor can be converted to a multi-use recreational trail, a plan that's recently drawn the support of the North Elba town board and, as of Monday night, the Lake Placid village board. Supporters of the railroad want to preserve the tracks, rehabilitate them and extend tourist train service on the corridor, which currently only runs between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and Utica and Thendara. Some have pushed for a combination of both enhanced train service and a trail running alongside the tracks, although ARTA believes that would be too costly.

Representatives of ARTA and train supporters in Tupper Lake met with the Saranac Lake village board separately in the last two months, but the board has yet to take a position on the issue, saying it has too many unanswered questions. A week-and-a-half ago, Rabideau and Catillaz rode the tracks from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake on a pick-up truck equipped to ride the rails to get a firsthand look at the corridor.

After Monday's meeting, Rabideau credited Catillaz, who's currently running for supervisor of the town of Harrietstown, with coming up with the idea to petition the state to revisit the management plan.

"Our thought process when we discussed it to bring it to the board was they (state officials) have the greatest amount of resources and expertise, and they can do it in a reasonable fashion," Rabideau said. "It's a process that's on the record, it's more formal, and it's gotta be done anyway."

The village had planned to convene a stakeholders meeting to try and find some common ground in the rail corridor debate. Rabideau said that's now up in the air.

"We'll wait and see if the state takes the ball and runs with it," he said.

Trustee Paul Van Cott, a state Adirondack Park Agency attorney, recused himself from the discussion as his agency would be involved in the review of any updated plan for the railroad corridor. Rabideau didn't vote on the resolution as he typically only votes to break a tie.



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