KEENE - When it comes to the best use of the Adirondack railroad corridor that runs from Lake Placid to Old Forge, Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he'll defer to the new North Country Regional Economic Development Council.
The Enterprise asked Cuomo about the corridor after a press conference on Wednesday, when he was in Keene to announce additional state funding for a new firehouse there.
The rail corridor is currently used by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad for a tourist train that runs between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake and between Utica and Thendara, near Old Forge, during the summer and fall. The middle section of the railroad, between Saranac Lake and Old Forge, is used twice a year to bring the scenic train to and from storage in Utica.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks Wednesday in Keene.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
The Adirondack Recrea-tional Trail Advocates, a group that wants the tracks removed to build a year-round, multi-use recreational trail, now has more than 10,000 members and hopes to bring its proposal to the governor's desk.
Cuomo said he's "heard the discussion back and forth" and understands it's a controversial issue.
"We work with something called the Regional Economic Development Council that we put together, which is really the leadership of the entire North Country, and I look to them to determine priorities," he said. "The old way of doing business was the state government in Albany would tell the North Country what to do. We've flipped that on its head. I'd rather have the North Country tell us how we can help."
The governor said he will look for guidance from the NCREDC "to resolve what the best plan is.
"And any way we can help execute that plan, we will," Cuomo said.
So far, the state Department of Transportation has declined to reopen the unit management plan for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, despite the growing call for a recreational trail.
"It doesn't sound right to me that they won't look at it," Cuomo said. "If the regional council and the North Country says this is a project they want to pursue, then of course we'll look at it."
NCREDC co-Chairman Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, said in an email that the council's plan "specifically values the development of regional trails, including Byway, Blueway and Trailway corridors.
"Demonstrating consistency with more than one aim in the plan is certainly something many projects look to do to enhance their competitiveness," he said. "Because this year's review process is now underway, we're not able at this time to comment much, though I do not believe there have been any projects put forward for the Adirondack rail corridor in this round."
ARTA steering committee member Jim McCulley, of Lake Placid, told the Enterprise it "speaks volumes" that Cuomo "knows there is an alternative when the rail fans have been going at it for 30 years now." He said if DOT were to open the unit management plan for the corridor, Cuomo would have the opportunity to study the economic benefits of the scenic train and the proposed recreational trail.
"I think once the governor understands that Garry Douglas has already spent $9 million for the Newton Falls line that will never operate, he will have a different outlook on this," McCulley said.
The Newton Falls railroad is a 46-mile stretch that runs through Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties. It was labeled a priority project by the NCREDC last year and received $9.9 million for its rehabilitation.
But part of the project was tied to the possible reopening of Newton Falls Fine Paper, something the council said would have created jobs for the region. Recently, the deal to reopen the paper mill fell through. Patrick J. Kelly, executive director of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, told the Watertown Daily Times rail service still needs to be restored because "we need to have the ability to offer the railroad to a potential buyer" of the paper mill.
Kelly also said the railroad is important to other businesses along its route.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.