APA seeks to change ‘travel corridor’ definition

The Tupper Lake train station is seen along the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor in October 2017. A New York state plan would replace 34 miles of tracks with a multi-use trail from here to Lake Placid, and would also upgrade 45 miles of tracks from here south to the Old Forge area. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

RAY BROOK — On Thursday the state Adirondack Park Agency board will take up proposed revisions to the State Land Master Plan that could have a profound impact on the future of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.

During its one-day meeting this month, the board will be asked to approve, and send out for public comment, a plan that would allow replacement of a railroad with a trail between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake — a trail that was shot down late last year by a state Supreme Court justice.

The 119-mile-long state-owned corridor runs from the southwest Adirondacks to Lake Placid. South of Remsen, the tracks are privately owned and continue to Utica. The nonprofit Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs tourist trains between Utica and the Old Forge area, and used to run them between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake until 2016, when the state stopped those runs in anticipation of removing the tracks. The railroad sued the state and won. State agencies have signaled they may appeal.

Under state law, the state Department of Transportation oversees travel corridors. A judge ruled that a plan to turn over 34 miles of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a trail violated the SLMP. The plan also called for upgrading 45 miles of tracks between Tupper Lake and the Old Forge area to enhance passenger train service.

The proposed changes the APA is discussed this week would act as a work-around to the judge’s decision. The judge essentially ruled that making the corridor into a trail would remove it from the travel corridor classification.

While APA staff has developed six alternatives to address the rail trail issue — including a “no action” alternative that would leave things as they are — their preferred alternative is Alternative 6.

“This alternative includes revisions to the Travel Corridors definition and guidelines for management and use to clarify that the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, or any section thereof, and future State-owned railroad corridors with existing rails, may be converted to and managed as a rail trail,” the APA’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement says. “Alternative 6 allows for (1) railroad operation on the corridor and/or (2) conversion of any portion of the railroad corridor determined appropriate for a rail trail, pursuant to an approved UMP. This alternative will also allow for a rail with trail if the corridor and surrounding lands have the capacity to support that use.”

The new language would also allow any other railroad beds the state may acquire in the future to be managed the same way. If the preferred alternative is approved — it has to be approved by the APA board this week and then go through an extensive public comment process — the definition of a travel corridor would be changed to read as follows:

“A railroad corridor is the fee or easement lands that include a railbed for the Remsen-Lake Placid railroad and any future acquisition that may be considered for classification as a travel corridor, existing either (1) for the operation of rail cars, or (2) to serve as a rail trail.”

If the changes are approved, then the DEC would have to develop a unit management plan that could — and likely would — call for the removal of rail tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.

Other alternatives that could be considered would amend the language to apply to all former railroad beds, create an entirely new land classification, or require the corridor to be classified as intensive use or wild forest.

In addition to the changes for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, the new language would prohibit another four-lane, limited access highway such as Interstate 87 from being built in the Adirondacks, and would require the removal of private signs visible from I-87 that don’t meet APA signage requirements.

Other agenda items

The APA board will tackle the travel corridor issue beginning at 10 a.m. at agency headquarters in Ray Brook. The board’s State Land Committee will also hear about guidelines on controlling invasive species, as well as proposed changes at the state-owned Gore and Whiteface mountain ski centers.

After lunch, there will be presentations on diversity in the Adirondacks and revisions to the agency’s subdivision application process.

For the full agenda, along with the travel corridor and ski area documents, go to www.apa.ny.gov/Mailing/2018/03/index.htm.