LAKE PLACID - In a close vote Monday night, this village's Board of Trustees opted to back the North Elba town board in calling for the state to remove the railroad tracks in favor of a recreational trail.
The village board voted 3-2 to pass a resolution supporting North Elba's stance on the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. It was introduced by Trustee Zay Curtis, and it spurred a lively debate among a board that often acts with consensus. Curtis was joined by trustees Jason Leon and Peter Holderied in voting for the resolution; Mayor Craig Randall and Trustee Art Devlin voted against it.
The resolution said the village "supports the town of North Elba resolution to request the removal of the train tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake in order to permit the development of a multi-use recreational trail." North Elba's resolution, which passed 3-2 earlier this month, stated that the town will proceed with its parallel recreational trail regardless of what the state decides to do with the rail corridor, but notes that the cost to build a trail would be significantly lower if the train tracks were removed.
"The train is, to me, just a big consumer of money," Curtis said. "It's nice nostalgia. ... I realize we're the end of the line and there's other towns along the line, but if the town of North Elba's made a resolution, if we make a resolution in support of it, then we see where the other towns are on it.
"We got elected to step up. My opinion is the train is a nice piece of history, but if we could get snowmobiling and skiing and hiking and biking and all the activities to go with our recreational trail summer and winter, I think that will go a lot more to attract people than that train, (which) I think catches people on a rainy day."
North Elba's resolution was written by Councilman Bob Miller, who said earlier this month that if the decision about the corridor is going to be made by the North Country Regional Economic Development Council, then local elected officials need to make it clear where they stand.
Holderied said he doesn't "for a second believe the numbers that all these studies have shown about the income from a multi-use trail.
"But on the other hand, it's got to be way more than what the train brings us now," he said.
Leon noted that Jim McCulley of Lake Placid and Tony Goodwin of Keene, members of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, had presented their case for removing the rails to the board. He wondered why train supporters never approached the board to make their case.
Leon said he thinks the trail would have a bigger impact on Lake Placid's economy, although he questioned whether snowmobilers and cross-country skiers could both use the trail during the winter without any safety issues.
Devlin said he doesn't think it's the village board's place to weigh in on the rail-versus-trail debate.
"If we're going to have an election in March, put a referendum on the item and let (voters) make their own decision," he said. "I don't really see where my opinion should count towards something like this when it's not our vote to make."
Holderied disagreed. He said the village has a representative democracy. But Devlin said village taxpayers expect the board to make decisions on the things it has control over, like buying a new fire truck. He said the village has no say in whether the tracks stay or go.
Holderied said other municipalities are waiting for someone to act first.
"Somebody needs political cover," he said.
"They're all running for political cover all the way down the line," Curtis added. "I think it's time for us to stand up and take a stand."
Randall said he thought the resolution was "premature" and was upset that Curtis didn't give him a heads up that it was being introduced Monday night.
"Frankly, the sponsor of the resolution could have picked the phone up or come and found me; he does for everything else," Randall said.
Randall said the position in Albany is that the tracks will likely remain. He said the NCREDC views the corridor as the only railroad right of way that still runs through the heart of the Adirondack Park.
The mayor said the board has only heard from ARTA, and he's heard that the Adirondack North Country Association is preparing a presentation of its own on the rail corridor.
Randall added that adjacent communities, like Tupper Lake, have made investments to encourage expansion of the Adirondack Scenic Railroad.
"It does seem to me that for an issue like this, the communities that are affected by the rail all the way down the line, should be involved in some sort of a public discussion or public referendum," he said. "I would like to hear from my constituents and not simply rely on the report of two individuals that have a particular direction that they want something to go."
Randall also echoed North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi in saying he thinks it would be a matter of years before the tracks were removed if the state decides to do so.
Curtis stressed that his resolution was not influenced by McCulley and Goodwin. He said that in the last three years, he's heard multiple presentations for and against removing the tracks.
Devlin said he didn't necessarily oppose the resolution, but he was against taking a position at this particular time.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.