Rail trail sessions end with small crowd

DEC says it owns corridor outright and that stone dust won’t pose danger

This artist's rendering shows what a trail might look like, replacing railroad tracks along the Lake Colby causeway just outside Saranac Lake village.

RAY BROOK — About 20 people attended the second of two public meetings the state held this week concerning the proposed plan for the Adirondack Rail Trail. No members of the public attended the first such meeting.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation held one meeting in Tupper Lake on Tuesday evening and another at DEC headquarters in Ray Brook Wednesday. Organizers said no non-officials attended the Tupper Lake meeting, but there was a solid crowd at Wednesday’s meeting.

DEC spokesman David Winchell gave a presentation of the conceptual plan that a group of state-selected stakeholders developed over the last year.

The rail trail would stretch 34 miles from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake and replace railroad tracks along that stretch. The state’s plan for the corridor, which it manages from Lake Placid to Remsen, also includes upgrading the train tracks south from Tupper Lake to Big Moose for passenger service.

Winchell said during the presentation that the state owns the corridor outright, other than three parcels of land at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake. He also said that NCCC, which owns the land along with Essex and Franklin counties, has already agreed to sell the land to the state and that details on that sale are being worked out.

About 20 people attend a public meeting on the Adirondack Rail Trail conceptual plan Wednesday at the state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 headquarters in Ray Brook. (Enterprise photo — Justin A. Levine)

One issue that has been raised repeatedly is the ownership of the corridor. But Winchell said the railroad companies owned the corridor outright and that the state bought the corridor from the railroad. John Lanahan of Lake Clear, a former vice president of the Lake Clear Association whose property is along the tracks, says deeds show the state owns a right of way for railroad use only, not the land itself. (Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Lanahan is president of the Lake Clear Association.)

Another issue that has come up is the material the trail will be made out of. The state is planning to construct the trail with stone dust surface to ensure that it meets Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Keith Gorgas of Saranac Lake recently raised the issue that the silica stone dust is a known carcinogen with warnings from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but Winchell said after the meeting that those health concerns are aimed more at people who endure prolonged exposure to the fine dust.

“We’ve looked at the MSDS (material safety data sheets) on it and talked to our hazardous waste people,” Winchell said. “The MSDS sheets actually refer to prolonged exposure in enclosed spaces.

“We’re not seeing anything that users of the trail are going to be exposed to any harmful levels.”

He added that workers who physically construct the trail may have to take extra precautions.

“My experience is (that) walking down the street in Saranac Lake in the spring before the sand is picked up is probably going to give you more exposure to fine silica than you would get from the trail,” Winchell said. “The initial looks at it don’t seem to be a big concern for people recreating on the trail.”

About a half-dozen people gave public comments and largely reiterated concerns that have been raised previously, such as user conflicts, signage and ensuring private landowners are protected from trespassing.

Chuck Damp of Ray Brook, a former North Elba town councilman and member of the stakeholder committee, said he’d like to see the trail eventually get expanded to Keene.

One of the proposals in the conceptual plan for the trail is that there will be a parking area for snowmobiles and trailers behind the fire station in Lake Placid, where that village currently puts snow during the winter. Damp said even with dozens of trailers parked in the field, the village will still be able to store snow there, and it can also use private land across the street if the need arises.

The construction of the trail is on hold until a court case is decided. The Adirondack Rail Preservation Society, which operates seasonal tourist trains under the Adirondack Scenic Railroad name, has sued over the state’s plan to remove the tracks. The matter is still before the state Supreme Court in Malone.

Wednesday’s meeting was the sixth in the past two weeks, with each of the three municipalities holding meetings last week and then the two DEC meetings this week.

The DEC is accepting comments on the proposed plan until June 2. Comments can be mailed to Senior Forester Steve Guglielmi, NYSDEC Region 5, P.O. Box 296, Ray Brook, NY 12977, or emailed to r5.ump.dec.ny.gov.

To see the plan in its entirety, go to www.dec.ny.gov/lands/62816.html.


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