RR plan derailed: North Elba quits plan for trail along rails

North Elba town board members sign a resolution asking the state to take out the train tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. They are, from left, Councilman Jay Rand, Supervisor Roby Politi and councilmen Jack Favro, Bob Miller and Derek Doty.

LAKE PLACID – The town of North Elba is abandoning plans to build a trail next to railroad tracks in the corridor between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, and the town board is asking the state to get rid of the rails.

Town Supervisor Roby Politi explained at Tuesday night’s town board meeting that local officials met with the town’s contracted engineers and a representative from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently, because the Army Corps wanted to investigate the property and its location.

“It was determined that the rail trail, where located, would require extensive additional engineering as well as a full review by the Corps with regard to the effects on the wetlands,” Politi said, “which, unfortunately, from a cost feasibility standpoint and from a time standpoint would drag this project well beyond the deadline for the beginning of construction and the utilization of those monies that we have received.”

The new reqiurement is due to changes in the Army Corps freshwater wetland restrictions, which the town was unaware of until the last 45 days, Politi said.

In addition to that, the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation are reviewing whether to open up the unit management plan for the state-owned corridor that contains the railroad from Lake Placid to Remsen. (From there, the railroad is private to Utica.)

Given all that, “it makes no sense for the town of North Elba to move forward at this time,” he said. “We just feel that we can’t jeopardize taxpayer monies.

“The stalling is not a result of the town of North Elba,” Politi noted. “It’s a direct result of decisions made by governmental agencies.”

Due to this change, board members decided to endorse the conversion of the corridor to a recreational trail, taking out the railroad tracks. They unanimously approved a resolution that asks Gov. Andrew Cuomo, DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald and DEC Commissioner Joe Martens to open the corridor’s UMP and allow for removal of the rails.

“This is not a change in our position which has always been to use the corridor for recreational purposes; however this is acknowledgement that in order for the corridor to be used as a bike path, the rails will need to be removed,” reads the resolution, which was drawn up by Councilman Bob Miller.

“It is our opinion that a bike path from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake will be used and enjoyed by a future diversity of users including local residents and tourists alike which will help generate recreational enthusiasm and expand economic opportunities throughout our entire region.”

Miller noted in the resolution that the town has worked for more than 10 years on the multi-use trail, engineering it and applying for grant money.

The town had set aside $2.6 million for phase I of the trail project, which would have built a multi-use trail from Old Military Road in Lake Placid to the Scarface Mountain trailhead in Ray Brook, and $1.8 million for the second phase, which would have run from Ray Brook to Brandy Brook Avenue in Saranac Lake. Those figures include grant money and local matching funds of about $750,000. As of May, the town had spent just over $300,000 on the project.

After Miller read the resolution, Councilman Derek Doty said he’s always been the one on the board backing the rails, but with the decision from the Army Corps, he sees no other choice.

“Tonight, guys, you win,” he told his fellow board members.

Councilman Jay Rand said he’s very much in support of installing a path in the corridor.

“It certainly would be a great asset to the town,” Rand said. “I think a lot of people would enjoy it.”

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or jcollier@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.