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Group keeps planning rail trail behind closed doors

October 14, 2016

RAY BROOK - The state Department of Environmental Conservation hosted a third closed-door meeting Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 12 at its Region 5 headquarters, with the hope that a draft conceptual plan for a rail trail will be released in early December.

Like the first two meetings held Sept. 6 and 22, this one was closed to both the public and the press. DEC spokesman David Winchell said opening the meetings was on Wednesday's agenda.

The state Committee on Open Government said the meetings don't need to be open to the public since there is not a majority, or quorum, of any government agency. Winchell said about 12 members of the advisory council attended each meeting, plus representatives of the DEC, the state Adirondack Park Agency, the state Olympic Regional Development Authority and the state Office of General Services.

Article Photos

The state plans to seek bids soon to remove these Saranac Lake railroad tracks and replace them with a multi-use trail.
(News photo — Lou Reuter)

Winchell wouldn't share the agenda for Wednesday's meeting but said the group is getting into more detail as the meetings progress.

"Last meeting we wrapped up with a discussion of the surface materials," he said. "This (meeting) we're getting down into more entries and exits from the trail. If we have time, we'll get to bridges and culverts and road crossings as well."

Meanwhile, Saranac Lake village Trustee Rich Shapiro, who sits on the advisory board, reported on its work so far at the Oct. 11 village board meeting, at the request of Mayor Clyde Rabideau.

Asked after the meeting if he thought they should be open given the amount of public interest in the publicly owned corridor, Shapiro said he thinks they should be open to the press. If they were open to the public, he said he would have "concerns that there may be some disruptive influences when we're trying to get work done.

"We already have 20 people involved that are part of the group, and it's kind of unwieldy having that many people," he said. "So having more people participating would definitely be unwieldy."

Winchell said the decision to keep the meetings closed was due to the difficult nature of starting a project like the rail trail from scratch. The point of the advisory council is to develop a draft conceptual plan of what the trail will look like and how it will function. Winchell said after the conceptual plan is developed, it would be released to the public and DEC would begin a public comment period.

"State agencies including ORDA, APA, DEC and the Office of General Services will be doing the construction and contracting, things like that," Winchell said.

In addition to state agencies, the advisory board includes representatives from the towns and villages along the corridor, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, Barkeater Trails Alliance and the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism. Jim McCully, president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Club; Lee Keet, a member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates board of directors; Tupper Lake town Supervisor Patti Littlefield and Shapiro are some of the advisory board members who were in Ray Brook Wednesday for the meeting.


Trail, rail bidding

DEC officials said last month that rail removal and initial trail construction would begin next summer.

"The plan is for them to put out an RFP (request for proposals) for pulling up the rails and doing the rail trail, to send those out in the February-March time frame," Shapiro told the rest of the Saranac Lake board Oct. 11.

At the same time, an RFP would be sent out for upgrading 45 miles of railroad tracks south of Tupper Lake to Big Moose, as is also part of the state plan.

"Politically, those RFPs have to go out at the exact same time," he said.

Rabideau interrupted Shapiro's report to ask about the lawsuit the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society filed against the state over its plan to remove the tracks.

"Some call it a red herring; some call it an impediment - this so-called lawsuit," the mayor said. "What is the thinking of the group that you're part of?"

"They're going ahead assuming that is primarily a red herring, that they'll be able to surmount any obstacles that come up from that," Shapiro said.

Asked by Rabideau if that's the take of the lawyers involved, Shapiro said that's what the group was told by DEC Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann.

"He's saying their marching orders are to go ahead," Shapiro said.

If the suit is unsuccessful, this may be the last month the Adirondack Scenic Railroad, run by ARPS, offers rides between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. Rail Explorers, which offers rail bike rides on the tracks between Saranac Lake and Lake Clear, as well as to Tupper Lake, has announced it will leave the Adirondacks after this month.


Planning progress

Meetings have been held about every two weeks, and Winchell expects that pace to continue.

"We're looking to get the draft conceptual plan out to the public in early December if possible, so we're holding these (meetings) fairly regularly," he said.

Winchell said some of the "umbrella issues" have been discussed at length, including "how we foresee the maintenance and operation of the trail as we move forward. Those discussions are going on, how we can do that with a partnership with the municipalities and private organizations."

Winchell said the meetings have been amicable, even with so many people on the advisory council.

"The tone has been very positive," Winchell said. "I've been very impressed with the enthusiasm of all the participants at these meetings. It seems everyone is anxious to move forward, get this trail done, and develop a quality trail that will attract people from all over, so it's a destination trail.

"The other thing that I think people are excited about is that we're going to look at every entrance and exit point, and the trail itself will be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible, so it's going to be a real asset to the community."



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