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APA approves change that could lead to rail trail

DEC leader says new plan to replace rails with trail is coming soon

RAY BROOK — The state Adirondack Park Agency on Friday approved a change to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan that could pave the way for a hotly contested trail replacing the railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is set to propose just such a plan for the state-owned line in the near future.

The state Department of Transportation oversees the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, and in 2016 the DOT and DEC released a unit management plan that would have upgraded the tracks from Remsen to Tupper Lake while replacing the tracks with a multi-use trail between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid.

That plan was shot down in court, however, after the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society — which operates seasonal tourist trains on the line — sued over the plan. The state did not appeal the ruling and instead opted to change the definition of a “travel corridor” to more clearly allow removal of the tracks on all or part of the corridor.

The definition change also applies to any future rail beds the state may purchase, but it does not affect any other existing state-owned rail beds.

The APA staff considered six proposals and recommended that the board approve Alternative 6.

“This alternative revises the Travel Corridors definition and guidelines for management and use to allow rail and rail trail use on the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor and future State-owned railroad corridors with existing rails,” the amendment says. “This alternative includes revisions to the Travel Corridors definition and guidelines for management and use to clarify that the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, or any section thereof, and future State-owned railroad corridors with existing rails, may be converted to and managed as a rail trail.”

The approval does not directly mean that the rail trail will be built, however. In order for construction to begin, the DEC would have to propose a unit management plan and go through the approval process. The definition change does not require that the rails be removed; it just means that if they are removed to build a trail, that would not violate the definition of a travel corridor.

DEC Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann said a new UMP will be released “sooner rather than later” but did not have a firm timeline.

“The 2016 UMP is basically moot, so we have to repeat that process,” he said. “We’re going to propose something similar to what was proposed (in 2016), and then we’ll go through the public process again before a decision is made.”

One of the other hang-ups with the 2016 plan was that during a title search, the state discovered it did not own about 3,000 feet of the corridor as it runs through North Country Community College’s Saranac Lake campus. The state and the college had been in talks about selling the parcel, and the NCCC board approved the sale at its meeting in June, according to meeting minutes.

“In conjunction with the consents and approvals of the Franklin County Board of Legislators and the Essex County Board of Supervisors, the Board of Trustees of North Country Community College does hereby consent and authorize the sale of the railroad easement property premesis to the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation,” the NCCC resolution says.

Stegemann said the DEC is working to buy the land and will also improve its historic preservation plan within the new UMP.

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