State mum on what next after judge shot down rail-trail plan

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad makes its way along the tracks near Saranac Lake in October 2016. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Last week, an acting state Supreme Court justice put an end to years of debate over what would happen with a 34-mile stretch of train tracks when he sided with an upstate railroad in its lawsuit against New York state.

Judge Robert Main, Jr. ruled that the state acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in regard to its plan to build a multi-use trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.

The judge found the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation, along with the state Adirondack Park Agency, had failed to properly address three main issues: That an historic preservation plan had not been created, that the state did not fully own all of the travel corridor, and that removing the tracks from the corridor rendered it no longer a travel corridor.

State officials and spokespeople from both DOT and DEC have so far been mum on the state’s next steps, would could include an appeal of the decision. While the first two issues could be resolved, it is the definition of a travel corridor that could be the final blow to the state’s Adirondack Rail Trail proposal.

A comprehensive historic preservation plan could be developed, and the state had already informed the village of Saranac Lake that it planned to buy the parcel of land that is currently owned by North Country Community College and the counties of Franklin and Essex.

But the main thrust of the judge’s decision, that which drew the most ire, is the removal of the tracks.

Judge Main called the state’s plan “self-serving.” From there, the judge goes on to note that “the SLMP (State Land Master Plan) expressly defines travel corridors in terms of either automobile or railroad transportation.

“Notably absent is any reference to hiking trails, bicycle traffic, snowmobile traffic, or any other cognizable recreational use.”

The state had argued that the travel corridor could be considered as such under the trail since people would still be traveling along the corridor, but the judge shot that argument down.

“Contrary to respondents’ (the state) efforts, this argument supports petitioner (ARPS) by confirming and acknowledging that, to be designated as a travel corridor, a location must meet the definition of travel corridor.

“In this matter, transforming Segment 2 (from Tupper Lake to Lake Placid) into a recreational trail removes it from the definition of travel corridor.”

Barring an appeal, this part of the decision cannot be rectified without changing the classification of the travel corridor, a process that would likely take years. And the judge left little wiggle room in his ruling.

“The destruction and removal of the railroad line can only be seen as a reclassification of the 34 mile Segment 2 of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.”


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