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DEC should heed REDCs

The Department of Environmental Conservation has forged ahead with a compromise on the fate of the Remsen-Lake Placid travel corridor with admirable determination but without proper direction.

The department failed to listen when Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the trail proponents that the decision wouldn’t be made in Albany. The governor in 2012 said the state would look to the Regional Economic Development Councils to determine priorities.

“The old way of doing business was the state government in Albany would tell the North Country what to do,” Cuomo said. “We’ve flipped that on its head. I’d rather have the North Country tell us how we can help.”

Regional Economic Development Councils in the North Country and the Mohawk Valley have written letters of support of retention and restoration of the rails all the way to Lake Placid. So has the Adirondack North Country Association, which represents 14 counties from the Mohawk Valley to the Canadian border, and the North Country Alliance. Add the support of the North Country and the Greater Utica chambers of commerce, and the Oneida County Tourism Council. Include the Oneida County Legislature and the town board of Harrietstown (which encompasses much of the area slated for destruction of the rails).

For 20 years, the department has ignored the corridor and its obligation to develop a trail system. Now it has proposed to remove the track north of Tupper Lake in favor of creating another trail in the Adirondack Park. And they propose that overburdened towns and the fiscally struggling Olympic Regional Development Authority pay for the maintenance of the resulting trail. The removal of the tracks calls the “travel corridor” designation into question. Without the rail infrastructure, there is nothing to distinguish this from any other trail in the Park. It seems that the current uses may no longer apply.

Trails with Rails Action Committee has documented an existing network of approved department trails, seasonal roads and abandoned logging roads that link Lake Placid to Tupper Lake by weaving in and out of the corridor without having to remove one foot of track. The department has the group’s work, including detailed maps and GPS coordinates, but never fully considered the possibility in its compromise proposal. The North Country is trying to tell Albany how it can help, but the department isn’t listening.

We live in the Empire State. We don’t set out to do anything halfway. We don’t have to settle for a compromise that will fail to maximize the corridor’s potential. We should demand that the department listen to the chorus of business and government leaders who expect both rails and trails to be part of the tourism economy of the entire region.

The best interest of the people of the great state of New York, who own the corridor, is not being served by the ill-conceived compromise offered by the department. Someone in Albany needs to explain to the DEC that the old way of doing business is over. The new approach is to listen and help. Now would be a good time to start.

Gene Falvo is a director of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

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