LAKE PLACID - When North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi saw Jim McCulley's name on the agenda for Tuesday night's regular board meeting, he thought some big news was about to break.
"We were hoping that you were going to enlighten us with the fact that you were bringing us information that the rails were going out," Politi told McCulley, who was joined by Tony Goodwin; both are members of the steering committee for the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.
Politi was disappointed to learn the two men weren't delivering a message from the state Department of Transportation that the tracks would be removed from the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.
Instead, the two men asked the board to pass a resolution supporting the removal of the tracks from Saranac Lake to Old Forge in favor of a multi-use recreational trail. Members of ARTA made similar requests to village trustees in Lake Placid and Saranac Lake on Monday.
McCulley said currently, DOT doesn't intend to remove the tracks. He said getting the agency to change its mind will be up to local elected officials.
"What it's really going to come down to is leadership from boards like this and from across the spectrum that says, 'You know what? We've seen enough; we don't want this any more,'" McCulley said of a tourist train that operates on the railroad.
North Elba has $4.3 million in federal funding to build a recreational path alongside the train tracks from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. Most of the town board members would prefer to remove the tracks and build a path on the corridor, but Politi said because the town has the funds, it doesn't want to wait for the state to act.
"Our feeling has always been: We want the trail," Politi said. "Ideally, we'd love to utilize the existing corridor without the rails. We also don't want to pass up the opportunity of having this additional recreational corridor to go to Saranac Lake."
Politi said the project would be cheaper if the rails were removed.
The board ultimately declined to pass a resolution supporting removal of the rails from Saranac Lake to Old Forge. Councilman Bob Miller said it wouldn't be proper to pass a resolution that ultimately affects communities outside of North Elba.
McCulley said the proposed trail would have a regional impact.
"Everyone's economy works together and is connected in the region," he said.
"I don't want to vote on something that has an impact on people in Tupper Lake," Miller said. "I'm not a Tupper Lake representative."
McCulley asked the board if it has asked the state to remove the tracks. Councilman Jack Favro said the board hasn't gone that far because it doesn't want to jeopardize the bike path project.
"We don't want to lose the other option," he said.
Councilman Derek Doty supports the railroad. He said the train could prove helpful when the town starts building its trail because it will be difficult to get manpower and supplies to construction sites.
Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously on two resolutions that will let the town move forward with the parallel trail. One resolution will let the town accept $1.5 million in grant money from the DOT's Scenic Byways program, which administers the federal funds. The other resolution is a memorandum of understanding with the Adirondack North Country Association, which will be responsible for overseeing the project and administering the funds locally.
The board and the ARTA members agreed that one person holds the power to have the tracks removed: Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"That's what we're working on," Goodwin joked.
On Monday, the Lake Placid village Board of Trustees declined to support the resolution. Mayor Craig Randall said he wanted to speak with Politi first because the majority of the tracks are in the town.
Village trustees in Saranac Lake also declined to back ARTA's suggested resolution, saying that don't have enough information to take a stand. They plan to host a meeting to look for common ground among proponents and opponents of the trail.