State files rail trail appeal notice

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s engine pulls out of the Saranac Lake train depot in fall 2016 on its way down to the Utica area for winter storage.
(Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

The Adirondack Scenic Railroad’s engine pulls out of the Saranac Lake train depot in fall 2016 on its way down to the Utica area for winter storage. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

The state attorney general’s office, on behalf of the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation and the state Adirondack Park Agency, has filed a notice to appeal the recent court decision shooting down a proposed rail-trail plan.

In September, acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Main Jr., of Malone, found that the state’s plan to replace 34 miles of train tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake with a multi-use trail was inconsistent with New York’s Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. He said the definition of a travel corridor does not include pedestrian uses.

The lawsuit was filed by the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which operates seasonal tourist trains on the corridor under the Adirondack Scenic Railroad name. Bill Branson, of Skaneateles, chairman of the board of ARPS, said the appeal is between the state and the court.

“We’re really not on that side of things,” Branson said Thursday. “We’re not thinking about it; we’re carrying on our business. We’re continuing along with our business plan, and if the state appeals, that’s fine.”

Although the DOT owns the corridor — except for two parcels, one in Saranac Lake and one in Lake Placid — it had developed a memorandum of understanding that would have allowed the DOT to retain ownership while letting the DEC manage the trail. But Judge Main found the plan, approved by the APA last year, would essentially take the 34 miles of corridor out of the travel corridor land designation.

“The multi-recreational use trail would be just that, a recreational trail,” Judge Main wrote. “The SLMP [State Land Master Plan] expressly defines travel corridors in terms of either automobile or railroad transportation. … The Court rejects respondents’ self-serving conclusion that the 2016 UMP is consistent with the SLMP.”

On Wednesday, the state attorney’s general office filed the notice to appeal in Franklin County, where the lawsuit was heard. The appeal will go to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Third Judicial Department. The notice contains no new information and is just a formal notification to the court of the pending appeal.

The two lawyers from the AG’s office who are representing the state in the lawsuit were unavailable for comment.

Joe Mercurio of Saranac Lake, president of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates — a group that pushed for the trail — said he’s glad to see the state making some sort of move on the decision.

“I don’t have any problem with them doing that kind of thing; it’s certainly one of several options,” Mercurio said Thursday morning. “From what I can see, the real issue has to do with the definition of a travel corridor, and I don’t think that was well done.

“Some of the stuff we’ve come up with since then shows that there was an earlier definition of a travel corridor going back to the 1996 UMP [unit management plan] which was much wider in application. That’s one of the definitions the DOT operated under for years, and all of a sudden it’s just limited to train transportation.

“I’m still hopeful that the thing can get resolved.”

COMMENTS