State to use EPF to buy rail trail land

NCCC president believes college community backs trail plan

Railroad tracks run through North Country Community’s College’s main campus in Saranac Lake in October 2016. The state wants to buy this land so it owns all of the 34 miles of rail corridor it plans to convert into a recreational trail. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

SARANAC LAKE — The state plans to use Environmental Protection Fund money to acquire a section of its proposed Adirondack rail trail that currently is owned by North Country Community College.

In a May 17 letter to village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann said his agency is “contemplating the purchase” of a parcel owned by Essex and Franklin counties and the college.

The 11-acre parcel, located in the North Elba section of the village, is currently assessed at $94,400, according to Essex County records. It straddles the railroad tracks from Brandy Brook Avenue to just past the college’s Sparks Athletic Complex.

The state’s lack of ownership of this and other parcels of land emerged as an issue last year in a lawsuit filed against the state by the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society. The group, which operates tourist trains under the Adirondack Scenic Railroad name, is suing the state over its plan to remove the railroad tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, replacing them with the multi-use recreational trail.

Stegemann’s letter doesn’t specify how much the state would pay for the property, and a DEC spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for more information, but the director said the state would use EPF money for the purchase.

Under the state’s Open Space Plan and EPF process, the village has 90 days from the date the letter was sent to respond with its support or opposition to the use of the EPF to buy the property.

The letter was briefly discussed at a June 26 village board meeting.

“Their question is, do we support it, oppose it or don’t care,” said Trustee Allie Pelletieri. “If we’re pushing the trail thing, then we want to support this. I support it. We don’t lose. We get the trail. North Country gets the money to help them along, and we get a (utility) easement.”

“I definitely support it,” added Trustee Rich Shapiro, who has served as the village’s representative to a group advising DEC on planning the rail trail. “The rights of way that go through the college, the one by the gym goes almost to the doors of the gym. It’s wide. What the state has agreed with the college and the counties to buy is enough width for the rail trail.”

Village Manager John Sweeney said Tuesday that he had sent DEC a letter saying the village isn’t opposed to the land purchase but is requesting an easement from the college for a sewer line that runs through the same area.

NCCC President Steve Tyrell told the Enterprise two weeks ago that the college’s attorney, Jim Brooks of Lake Placid, was in contact with DEC and was putting together the paperwork for the purchase on behalf of the counties and the college.

“I know there’s a lot of activity on it right now,” Tyrell said. “I expect we’ll see something in the near future.

“I haven’t seen anything on what the state would pay the college and the counties for the acquisition of that property,” Tyrell added. “It’s not going to build a new building for me; let me put it that way.”

Tyrell said the property the state would buy is of limited use to the college. His only concern, he said, is making sure the necessary easements are in place for utilities that run through the area.

Beyond that, a recreational trail that runs through the campus could be an asset, Tyrell said.

“I think the members of the campus community, especially the folks who use the athletic facility, see a trail down there as an added recreation opportunity for those who want to enjoy the outdoors,” he said.

“The other thing is, people have said — irrespective of what their political position has been on trail, rail or both — I haven’t had anybody in the campus community interested in the college maintaining ownership and then being liable for maintenance of the trail,” Tyrell added. “The liability has really pointed the college community toward the potential sale. … We’re not involved in recreational trail management.”

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