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Rail trail public meetings end in Lake Placid

November 13, 2014
By TOM SALITSKY ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - The public has spoken, and it is divided.

On Friday, Nov. 7, in the final of four public comment sessions the state departments of environmental conservation and transportation held in order to receive public feedback on amending the 1996 UMP for the Remsen to Lake Placid corridor, the comments posted at the state "listening stations" ranged from the hardcore pro-train to the die-hard pro-trail and encompassed everything in between:

"NG - track should not be removed."

"In favor of R-T whole corridor - great opportunity based on other R-T."

"Alt. 6 from original UMP best option (compatible rec. uses with rail)."

"Keep rail, side-by trail useful even if not fully connected."

The presentation occurred at 1 p.m., yet a crowd of about 100 took the time to attend and submit their comments to representatives of the DEC and DOT.

The public has until Dec. 15 to submit written comments electronically or by mail to the DOT, who will review the data. In 2015, a draft corridor UMP-SEIS will be developed based on the comments obtained during the public comment period. Afterward, the draft UMP amendment will be released for public view, and the agencies will have the opportunity to make any last-minute modifications needed. Finally, in late 2015, the final corridor UMP is expected to be approved.

Although the timetable may seem aggressive, Rob Davies, DEC director of lands and forests, explained that because the agencies are amending an existing plan, it will not take nearly as long as it would had they been starting from scratch.

"This is an amendment to a UMP; it is not the creation of a brand new UMP," Davies said. "We get to work from the work that was already done in 1996. The inventory of the corridor is essentially the same."

Davies also clarified that, although the agencies are amending the UMP, they may decide not to change it at all.

"Moving forward, we have committed to amending the unit management plan," Davies said. "There will be alternatives that are identified, including a 'No action' alternative, which could be that the 1996 plan got it all right and that it would remain as a train today."

Davies mentioned that additional alternatives may materialize as well.

"It could be that we remove all the rail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, or it could be a series of changes within that," Davies said. "Some people were confused at the meeting last night and thought that we had already come to a conclusion that we were going to be removing the rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, and that is not the case.

"We are here to consider what to do with the rail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid," Davies said.

As was the case at the other three sessions, the public had the opportunity to leave comments and questions with a representative of the DEC or the DOT at a "listening station," which was a flip-chart posted on an easel.

Representatives from Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates were once again on hand to distribute handouts questioning the agencies' findings.

Jim McCulley of Lake Placid, a member of ARTA, said he believed the sessions went well but had concerns about the state's information.

"Overall, I thought it was good the state came out and said, 'Yes, the ownership of the corridor is in fee,'" McCulley said, referring to the state's ownership of the entire corridor. "I thought it was good the state came out with, 'You can't have both (rail and trail),' because that has been a red herring that has been going on forever. People just keep putting that out there, whether it made any sense or not, so I was happy about that."

Sunita Halasz of Saranac Lake came to the session along with her children in order to support the rails.

"We're all advocates for saving the rails," Halasz said. "We primarily are interested in that for universal access to the Adirondack Park. It's such a unique resource, and it's one way that everybody can (access) it.

"Also, we see it as a link to our historic past," Halasz said. "Our cultural history is our heart. We also see it as an economic driver for sure, and a better ecological choice because the per capita pollution level is lower for train passing than for personal car use."

Ray Hessinger, DOT director of the Freight and Passenger Rail Bureau, believes the sessions gave the departments the chance to listen to the public.

"I think they've gone pretty well," Hessinger said. "The turnout has been good. The feedback we've been getting is fantastic. The format has kept the rancor to a minimum. There may be people who were looking forward to that, but ultimately, these were about us hearing from the people, and as Dave (Winchell with the DEC) said, participation is much higher in this format, and we're very happy with it."



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