LAKE PLACID - The atmosphere was more subdued Wednesday night than it was the previous night in Tupper Lake, but questions and reactions indicated there was still some blood boiling below the surface at AdkAction's presentation at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.
The group released a study that evaluated the potential economic impacts and construction costs if the rail corridor between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid is either rehabilitated into a full scenic rail line or turned into a recreational trail.
AdkAction hosted the project's authors, Carmen Lorentz of Camoin Associates and Ted Kolankowski of Barton and Loguidice, who presented the study's findings: first Tuesday in Tupper Lake, then Wednesday in Lake Placid.
Tupper Lakers have much invested already in what happens with the corridor. In the last few years, the community has put about $400,000 and at least hundreds of volunteer hours into building a new train depot, a replica of the one that stood there for years when the train business was booming, in hopes of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad extending its Lake Placid-to-Saranac Lake tourist train service there. Next Stop Tupper Lake organizers, who headed up the effort, say that trains are a significant part of Tupper Lake history.
But in Lake Placid, officials are questioning the benefits of the train and insisting that a trail would bring in more tourism dollars. The town of North Elba board originally headed up the AdkAction study but ran into issues with releasing funding and are now at work trying to get a trail installed along the rails from Lake Placid to Ray Brook, a project that already has approvals and partial funding in place.
"Because it's a very emotional topic, our whole goal was to try to lower the temperature," said David Wolff, chairman of AdkAction.
He said he thinks that goal was achieved, at least in part. Audiences in both Tupper Lake and Lake Placid listened to the study's findings, were respectful and asked good questions, Wolff said.
The study determined that ripping up the rails and building a trail would bring in about $440,000 more in economic benefits than rehabilitating the railroad between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake, and would create 20 jobs as opposed to the rail option's 13.
But the study said it would also cost about $4 million more to rip up the rails and install the trails, since it would mean changing the entire infrastructure of the corridor.
The study made no recommendations but highlights the finding that either option would have a positive economic impact on the region.
Wolff said his group is looking for the local municipal leaders to take the lead from here on coming to a consensus on what to do with the corridor, which he said they should do so they can start lobbying and fundraising for whichever project they decide to go with.
"It's time for the community to get involved," Wolff said. "We have this incredible asset between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, and it's not being used."
The study didn't look at the option of both rehabilitating the rails and creating a recreational trail alongside them because it's a more complicated issue, Kolankowski said when questioned about it after the presentation. Many funding sources would require that the trail be widened significantly around the rails, which would be problematic since it would require removing rocks, adding fill where the path is too narrow or goes over water in many places, and would have a significant environmental impact.
"The existing corridor is really narrow," he said.
But many still say that should be considered as an option.
Steve Erman, president of the Adirondack North Country Association board, said he wants to continue to look at the possibilities of rails with trails.
"ANCA is committed to retaining the rail line as a long-term asset, and that is a view also held, as far as we can tell, by the state of New York," Erman said.
He said adding a trail to the rail line would create many opportunities to build the local economy. A Lake Placid-to-Ray Brook trail already has approvals and some money raised, and it's so close that it needs to be pushed forward, he said. He said ANCA is willing to help the town of North Elba, which is heading up the trail construction, with making sure it materializes.
Art Lussi, a Lake Placid businessman and state Adirondack Park Agency commissioner, said he believes the study's estimates of how much it would cost to pull up the tracks and put down a trail are too high. Kolankowski said during the presentation that the costs used were based on if contractors did the work, but Lussi said the local mountain bike community has proven that it will donate tons of free labor to building trails.
That's good, Lussi said, because governments are unlikely to support any sort of big spending project right now with budgets in the red.
He said he'd like to see work get started on the Lake Placid-to-Ray Brook trail so it can be used as an example for the rest of the corridor.
Rusty Russum, a conductor with the railroad, called the entire study a waste of time and money.
"Their numbers are so far off it's laughable," Russum said. "Really bad."
Russum questioned the intentions of the study in the first place.
"Quite frankly, they're trying to get the rails taken up," he said.
But he said that's highly unlikely since it would take an act of the state Legislature to change the use of the corridor. He also said he believes it would require an act of Congress, since the corridor is on the National Historic Registry.
"By the time that happens, we'll be running trains between Utica and Lake Placid twice a day," Russum said.
Asked about that during the presentation, Lorentz said it is an issue but wasn't the focus of the study.
"I think it's an important issue people need to understand exists," she said. "That's still an open question and would still require quite a bit of study."
It's not impossible, though. She said there are a few examples of trails being created in rail corridors that were on national and state historic registries in other areas.
But not everyone was as dismissive of the study's findings. Saranac Lake Community Development Director Jeremy Evans said he found the study to be objective as well as conservative in its considerations.
"I thought they had pretty good methodology," Evans said. "I'm glad AdkAction took the initiative to do it."
Evans also said he'd like to see a study that looks into the possibility of rails with trails, at least between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.