Trail could go off the rails, train group warns
MALONE — Lawyers for the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society say the state may reroute part of a trail along village of Saranac Lake streets and sidewalks if it doesn’t sort out ownership issues for the railroad the trail would replace.
Also in paperwork filed this week, lawyers representing ARPS in suing the state said the state’s plan to build a 34-mile rail-trail is “arbitrary and capricious because the state does not have sufficient ownership rights to implement the UMP (unit management plan).”
ARPS operates seasonal tourist trains under the Adirondack Scenic Railroad name between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, as well as on the southern end of the rail line between Utica and the Old Forge area. It has sued over a state plan that would remove 34 miles of train tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and replace them with a multi-use trail. The state’s plan also calls for upgrading 45 miles of tracks from Tupper Lake south to Big Moose for passenger service.
The railroad sued the state last April after the state finalized its plan, called Alternative 7 under an amended UMP. In subsequent research, the state discovered it did not own fee title to two parts of the corridor’s land: one area at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake that is owned jointly by the college and the counties of Essex and Franklin, and one parcel at the Lake Placid train depot that the Lake Placid/North Elba Historical Society owns.
The railroad’s lawyers said in the supplemental memorandum filed Monday that “the state is apparently considering … ending the recreational trail at both ends of the college parcel and connecting the two ends by using existing sidewalks and public streets throughout the village of Saranac Lake.
“Perhaps more importantly, this new segmented approach to the recreational trail was not the recreational trail contemplated by the UMP, which characterizes the trail to be … ‘uninterrupted.'”
ARPS’ memo also notes that “nothing in the state’s affidavits indicate that anyone from the state has reached out to municipal officials in Saranac Lake to even discuss this option.”
Saranac Lake Trustee Rich Shapiro, the village’s representative to a stakeholder group planning the rail trail, said the alternative of detouring the trail through streets and sidewalks was news to him.
“It hasn’t been discussed at any of our stakeholder meetings, and to the best of my knowledge, it hasn’t been brought up to the village,” Shapiro said Tuesday afternoon.
The easement for the college land says “the easement hereby reserved will cease and terminate upon formal abandonment of railroad tracks.”
During court proceedings in January, the state presented a letter of intent between the state and the counties and college that implied all parties were agreeable to coming to a solution on the easement issue that would let trail construction move forward.
But the railroad argued Monday that the letter of intent was signed late last year and that the state has provided no proof that those talks have proceeded.
“There is nothing in the record before the court to indicate that anything more than this ‘agreement to cooperate by investigating’ has been done to move towards a resolution of the identified challenges in the six months since the letter was prepared,” the memorandum says.
“What is clear is that the state has taken no concrete steps to resolving these title issues, but asks the court to accept its vague and speculative ‘options’ as evidence that it will ultimately be able to construct the recreational trail.”
ARPS’ lawyers wrote that “the removal of rail infrastructure to make way for a multi-use trail along Segment 2 that the state does not have the legal right to construct would be capricious and arbitrary.”
The state has said that since the Lake Placid parcel is privately owned, it is not part of the Alternative 7 plan.
“This parcel was never part of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor … (which) includes only the state-owned lands,” rail-trail stakeholder group meeting notes from February said. “Although the DEC needs to develop an agreement with the historical society to have the trail and other infrastructure on their property, this situation was recognized early in the process.”
At the court hearing in January, the state also provided a letter from the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, but acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Main ordered the state to provide a more detailed plan on historic preservation of the corridor, which is listed on both the state and national registers of historic places.
The railroad’s lawyers argued in a separate supplemental memorandum, filed on March 16, that the state was still not compliant with the historic preservation law.
The state has acknowledged that removing the tracks would have a negative impact from a historic preservation perspective but that it is only required to try to mitigate that damage.
The railroad says in the March 16 memo that the state “will video record the infrastructure as it is being removed.
“The reality is that the entire resource from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid will be destroyed and no measure of mitigation can alter the true loss of the historic asset.”
Joe Mercurio, chairman of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates group that has pushed for the trail, also filed an affidavit on March 21 in support of the state’s decision-making process and outcome.
The county clerk said no timeline for further action or hearings has been issued by Judge Main.