SARANAC LAKE - The town of Harrietstown board expects to join a growing list of area municipalities asking the state to revisit its management plan for the railroad corridor that stretches from south of the Adirondacks to Lake Placid.
The board voted 4-0 Thursday to draft a resolution asking the state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation to reopen the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Unit Management Plan.
The decision came after a heated back-and-forth between representatives of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a group pushing to remove the tracks and convert the corridor to a multi-use recreational path, and the Adirondack North Country Association, which supports preserving and expanding train service on the rail corridor.
Councilman Bob Bevilacqua said he had come to the meeting prepared to pass a resolution in support of ARTA, but was asked by railroad supporters earlier in the day, at an event at Saranac Lake's Union Depot, to "hold off for a couple months so they can give the other side of the story." Bevilacqua also referenced Thursday's announcement from ANCA that the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society has teamed up with Iowa Pacific Holdings to develop luxury passenger rail service between Lake Placid and New York City using restored Pullman rail and sleeping cars.
ARTA's Dick Beamish said his group isn't asking the town to endorse its concept of a recreational trail but to join the other local governments along the corridor, including the village of Saranac Lake and town of Tupper Lake, who've asked the state to revisit the UMP. The plan, which was completed in 1995, is supposed to be updated every five years but hasn't been reopened since.
"It's really time to do it," Beamish said. "If you pass a resolution to reopen the unit management plan, then we can carefully study the different options. You're not taking sides, but you're taking a step forward to examine what the resource is and what can be done with it. I hope you won't postpone it."
ARTA President Joe Mercurio was disappointed the board was considering postponing a decision.
"I'm at least expecting the board would have the backbone to stand up and support the discussion of something that could lead to a huge economic impact for the area," he said.
But ANCA board President Steve Erman cautioned the board about taking advice on the process of updating the management plan from ARTA or anyone else with a stake in the fight.
"I'd urge you not to take action tonight, and I'd urge you to have a representative of both departments here at your next meeting to talk about the process," he said. "I think that's the way, if I were a public official, I'd want to proceed. Frankly, I think the village board and the town of Tupper Lake board made a mistake by not speaking with state officials about that process."
Beamish argued that's not necessary, and he accused Erman of trying to obstruct the process. Mercurio said ANCA and the North Country Chamber of Commerce have a "vested interest," because of their support for preserving and expanding rail service, in not seeing the UMP reopened.
"Steve is afraid they'll open up the plan and find out the trail greatly outweighs the rail in terms of benefits," Beamish said.
"Don't put words in my mouth," Erman shot back. "It's not a matter of obstruction. It's a matter of moving forward knowing what you are doing. I think what you would do, by opening the process up, is basically showing you're interested in seeing that plan changing."
Bevilacqua said he didn't see how bringing in state representatives to explain the process would change anything "other than backing things up another couple weeks."
Councilman Ron Keough said he had emailed the board suggesting it support reopening the UMP.
"The process is frustratingly slow, but in my mind it's the only way you'll get legal, documented, factual information," he said. "Otherwise it's he-said, she-said."
The board will take a formal vote on its resolution petitioning the state to reopen the UMP at its Nov. 15 meeting.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.