Monday, February 8, 2016

Dave Gibson: APA’s Response To Rail-Trail Comments Falls Short

Train-300x241 Nancie BattagliaBy this stage the NYS APA, DEC, and DOT may feel justified that they have adequately addressed public comments about the future of the Remsen-Lake Placid Railroad Travel Corridor. Having hosted listening sessions in 2013-14 and several public comment periods in 2015, the last one concluding in December, the DEC’s unit management plan amendment goes on, page after page, responding to questions and comment. The DEC responses justify the preferred alternative of separate corridor segments; segment one with rail from Remsen terminating at Tupper Lake, the other, an all-recreational segment two between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid, without rail. The underlying economic studies doubtless contributed to the result, as do the physical obstacles to rail with trail, but the compromise seems almost unavoidable in light of the often clamorous, divided public point and counterpoint.

Still, one would have hoped that in its mailing to Agency members this month APA staff would have gone the extra mile in describing and analyzing the public comments in explaining why the Travel Corridor UMP amendment, and the creation of the two corridor segments (and much else in the UMP) complies with the State Land Master Plan. That was the purpose of the public comment period ending in mid-December. That is the decision APA Members will have to make next week in Ray Brook. The case for compliance, the major policy issues facing the APA, and staff’s assessment of public comment letters visa vi those important policy questions should form the basis of an informed decision, right?

The APA staff memorandum notes the Agency has received 217 public comments, about one-third of which addressed the question of SLMP compliance, and the remainder raising issues of corridor management. It states: “the most notable comments regarding compliance… have to do with land classification implication of rail removal; listing of the railroad on the State and National Register of Historic Places; specific language of the 1996 UMP opining on APSLMP interpretation; and potential impacts of snowmobile use along the Corridor.”

Having described four “notable” areas of public comment, the staff surely would follow with assessment, legal interpretation, and a strong rationale and basis for the APA members to consider next Thursday. Not so. The memo abruptly ends with: “agency staff has reviewed the proposed Final Amendment…and finds the amendment conforms to the general guidelines and criteria of the …Master Plan.” As far as analysis of the 200+ “notable” public comments, APA staff appears unconcerned and APA members are left to their own devices.

This memo is unsatisfying on several levels, not least of which is that a professional, talented staff can and should do so much better if properly encouraged. The Park, including its people and all those who have commented on such a controversial policy matter deserve better.

One of Adirondack Wild’s comments, which APA staff took note of but does not address, are the several places in the SLMP which link the words travel corridor, right-of-way and railroad. Taken together, they do more than suggest that an all-recreation travel corridor lacking rail transportation infrastructure between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid may not conform to the Master Plan:

  • The Travel Corridor definition (SLMP pg.46) states that a travel corridor category includes “the Remsen to Lake Placid railroad right-of-way.” The right-of-way is modified by the word railroad in the very definition.
  • This ROW descriptor is carried over onto page 47, where the responsibility of the NYS DOT over the Remsen to Lake Placid railroad line is mentioned.
  • The designation of travel corridors (SLMP pg. 49) states that the application of the definition results in designation of 120 miles making up “the Remsen to Lake Placid railroad.”

In addition, on page 15 the SLMP states that “the classification system takes into account the established facilities on the land…many of these factors are self-evident: the presence of a highway determines the classification of a travel corridor…” From this section, one can conclude that the mere presence of the RLPRR right-of-way without the rails would not make a Travel Corridor self-evident.

Does the SLMP intend that the Remsen to Lake Placid right-of-way receive meaning solely through the railroad or railroad line? Therefore, is an amendment to the Travel Corridor designation or the creation of a new SLMP designation necessary? Agency staff neither asks nor answer.  At the next APA meeting, maybe some members will.

Former agency staff did answer, as well as DOT and DEC staff involved in reviewing the 1996 Remsen to Lake Placid Unit Management Plan. They all concluded that “the description of the travel corridor classification in the APSLMP refers to the railroad right-of-way in terms of a mass transit situation similar to roads and highways rather than a recreational facility” (1996 UMP, pg. 53).

If the ROW were to be transitioned to a trail for snowmobiling, bicycling or foot traffic, say these 1996 UMP authors, “the travel corridor description should be amended to more clearly reflect the recreational theme of the management that would be pursued on the Corridor if rail options fail to materialize. As an alternative, another classification should be added to the APSLMP to reflect recreational use of the Remsen-Lake Placid Corridor instead of major transportation use” (1996 UMP, pg. 53).

Will the current APA staff explain why in 1996 their predecessors deemed it necessary to amend the SLMP for an all-recreational corridor, and why in 2016 it no longer is? Stay tuned next Thursday and Friday at the APA.

Photo: Adirondack Scenic Railroad locomotive at Saranac Lake by Nancie Battaglia.


David Gibson

Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for nearly 25 years, much of that time as Executive Director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks and then as first Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.

During Dave's tenure at the Association, the organization completed the Center for the Forest Preserve including the Adirondack Research Library at Paul Schaefer’s home. The library has the finest Adirondack collection outside the Blue Line, specializing in Adirondack conservation and recreation history.

Currently, Dave is a partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




66 Responses

  1. Steve says:

    If Dave Gibson is against it, we should be for it.

  2. M.P. Heller says:

    Thanks Dave. It’s an important aspect of the process that seems to get swept under the rug more and more often these days. Shameful.

  3. Keith Gorgas says:

    This is an excellent essay that asks questions that all should be asking. If words mean anything, they must mean what they were intended to mean. Leaving aside the economics of the issue, and the potential for providing a more environmentally friend means of travel through the Adirondacks, the DEC’s proposal of Alt.7 glosses over numerous legal obstacles to the destruction of the railroad and creation of a snowmobile superhighway.

    The DEC’s treatment of the Historic Preservation aspects of this proposal is enough to leave anyone with a an once of common sense scratching their heads in disbelief. It really makes mockery of the whole concept of Historic Preservation, and plays fast and loose with the English language.

    When the economic numbers of cost and return are put side by side on the table, clearly Alternative 7 is a “lose/lose proposition” for the people of New York State and Adirondackers in particular. Rails with Trails, as put required by Alt 6 and approved years ago by all factions including the DEC and the APA remain the Win/ Win proposition for all. Unfortunately, up till now, the DEC has dismissed, out of hand, the carefully developed plan byTRAC and Next Stop Tupper Lake; a plan that was painstakingly drawn up with the help of DEC region 5 personnel. Thanks, Dave Gibson, for shining a light in the darkness.

  4. James Falcsik says:

    When the the land owner also comes into possession of the right of way (common ownership) the right of way is usually extinguished; how can the land owner have rights against himself? We hear the corridor is owned in fee simple by NYS. Therefore once the tracks are removed there is no right of way due to this common ownership. Mr. Gibson’s group may well argue that the land should revert to Wild Forest, or whatever classification the underlying land would be.

  5. Sunita Halasz says:

    I have always appreciated all of Dave Gibson’s insight on Forest Preserve issues, including this commentary, which will hopefully provide a wake-up call to the APA in the nick of time.

    Many people think that the role of the APA is extraneous in this rail debate, but it is a huge SLMP issue right to its core. The SLMP makes it clear that a Travel Corridor is just an overlay over the underlying land classification. So, if the Travel Corridor is removed, then, in the case of this UMP amendment, the land becomes Wild Forest or Canoe Area. In Wild Forest, snowmobile trails have to fall under the snowmobile mileage cap. In Canoe Areas, snowmobile and bike trails are not allowed.

    To deal with this, APA staff have suggested that by continuing to call DOT the manager of the defunct Travel Corridor, then they can avoid dealing with all the SLMP issues. However, managing state lands for recreational uses is not at all in DOT’s clearly stated mission. To approve Alternative 7, all the state agencies are twisting themselves in pretzel knots to create a new, made-up state land classification, and it is something that the majority of people do not even want (according to a Nov. 2015 poll in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise).

    Beyond the SLMP issues, the APA is mandated to look at all aspects of the landscape when making land use planning decisions. In the case of the Travel Corridor, they should be thinking about how the rails mix with adjacent trails, trailheads, and waterways, and adjacent businesses, cultural attractions, homeowners and communities. As the regional planning agency, they need to be looking at the corridor as a mix of those elements (like they did in the 1996 UMP), rather than just a linear trail entity unrelated to anything it passes through (like they are doing with this Alternative 7). Chopping the corridor into northern and southern segments denies the existing cultural and ecological mix of the geography of the corridor, as well as its future cultural and ecological potentials. The very first part of the APA Act itself mandates the APA to look at all these aspects in the context of the REGIONAL plan. If there was ever an issue that was Park-wide and regional in its scope, this is it! The APA has to do its due diligence, or it is helping to make itself obsolete.

    I deeply respect the wisdom of the SLMP and the APA Act as far-reaching documents that can stand the test of time and help to preserve our globally unique region. What we are seeing unfold is a “death by a thousand cuts” to these guiding and legally binding documents. I really hope the APA does the right thing and upholds their own mandate this Thursday, for the sake of the agency itself, but also for the sake of our truly incredible Park.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Sunita; Your comment on this issue and the APA is very thoughtful. I can think of half a dozen departments and agencies that need to see it, but hopefully you will make sure a copy is sent to the Governor’s Office.

  6. David P. Lubic says:

    Here is something else that, in my opinion, ties in with this commentary–the last three paragraphs from a story in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise on the Franklin County decision to support the railroad, or perhaps more appropriately, both rail and trail:

    “A trail alongside the tracks exists for a short stretch in the village of Saranac Lake, and an APA-approved plan to put one all the way to Lake Placid was dropped by the town of North Elba after the Army Corps of Engineers raised issues with it. Between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, narrow causeways and other shoreline issues obstruct a side-by-side trail and track, but a group called Trails with Rails Action Committee has developed a plan for a trail that sticks with the railroad in some areas and veers away from it in others. TRAC members were unhappy that state officials decided against their proposal.

    “‘I’m delighted that the legislature has backed it,’ said TRAC coordinator Bob Hest, of Mountain View. ‘There’s a whole team of people that are merchants in Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake (and) other communities up and down the corridor who have been supporting that New York state actually implement the policy it adopted 20 years ago. For the legislature to come out and do it at this particular time is most welcome.’

    “‘I have not ever seen the DEC be so precise and so specific about why a trail couldn’t be done. Or why the trail that has been designed with their help couldn’t be built.'”

    What does that last paragraph tell us about what’s really going on?

    The story:

    http://adirondackdailyenterprise.com/page/content.detail/id/559901/Franklin-County-legislature-calls-for-rails-with-trails.html?nav=5240

  7. Curt Austin says:

    If you had a public relations consultant, he would tell you to be clearly lobbying to have the SLMP rewritten to be consistent with the intentions of 1996 UMP (and the expectations of those who developed it, as one of them explained it to me: the railroad would certainly fail). Yes, I know you think that would be backwards. Yes, I know you would prefer that snowmobiles had never been invented. Yes, I understand that the sanctity of the SLMP is more important to you than the public benefits provided by a trail.

    The PR consultant would explain that to do otherwise would seem lawyerly to the public – unpersuasive. Churlish, not helpful. It would confirm people’s worst fears about your organization, that its true mission is to get humans out of the Park. Trains are OK since the passengers are locked up, like in the little trains that run through zoos.

    The PR guy would tell you to find a more positive objective. Lobby for changing the SLMP when it unexpectedly interferes with a contemporary, reasonably devised, harmless proposed use for a state asset.

    We all know that the next step in your plan is, instead, to resist any change in the SLMP.

    • Marc Wanner says:

      Curt, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad has been dropping off paddlers and their boats on the southern end of the line for some years now, and I’m sure they’d be happy to carry folks from Lake Placid and Saranac Lake to the Canoe Area. So much for your contention that the opposition to ripping up the rails is based on keeping people out of the Park.

      And “lawyerly”?! Laws exist precisely to balance competing interests. If anyone could just waltz in with slick PR and push those fusty old laws out of the way any old time they like, we’d be in a bad way!

  8. Jim McCulley says:

    It really is an interesting mix of train supporters. On one hand you have very fiscally conservative rail buffs. That want no government spending except on a train that has failed 3 times. They you have the green contingent that as usual has no clue what’s good for the environment. But would love all humans to be on trains.Not for efficiency but for control of people they find unworthy of using the forest preserve. They are all for cutting 100,000’s of trees for this goal. And the railfan is all about spending millions of taxpayer dollars on an abject failure. Interesting.

    • Keith Gorgas says:

      Jim McCulley, I may not fit into of your pigeon holes, because as much as I hate to see waste of government money, both studies show that the money invested in either the rail or the trail will bring more of a return than an expense. What has never been analysised is the synergistic return on a side by side in and out trail and rail as mandated by Alt 6. There is no doubt that a trail will produce revenue, though I may doubt it will equal what ARTA promises. There also is no doubt that a completed railroad will produce enduring revenue, though you may doubt it will be as high as projected. But no one has really explored the combination… ride your bike from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, take the train back. Ride your snowmobile down to Old Forge, have a few drinks and relax on the train ride back up north while you sober up. Can’t be done, you say. Can be done, should be done, say I. The alternate loop around Lake Colby makes more sense than the causeway, because it gives a connection to the Bloomingdale Bog trail and access to trails extending to the Canadian border and down to Plattsburg. If I were governor, I would set the leaders of ARTA and TRAC down in a room, and nobody gets out until a genuine compromise that everyone could live with is reached. For the State to invest in such a trail, I believe, would be money well spent. I don’t speak for TRAC or the Railroad, but I say if Lake Placid really doesn’t want the railroad, pave the section between LP & SL, but bring the train and trail together to SL. In special events, shuttle buses could use the trail as an HOV lane to avoid traffic.

    • Paul says:

      Train that has failed three times. It seems to be swimming along nicely in places right now?

      • Walter Ordway says:

        A beautiful ARTA-friendly, in depth, ‘stock’ answer’. I’ll try to be brief here:

        “Failed” in 1965/1972. Yes, when railroads all over the Northeast were in dire straits. New York Central in ’65 was cutting service *EVERYWHERE*, and Penn Central was going through a little issue which happened to be the biggest US bankruptcy of all time in ’72. Status of railroad: Common Carrier.

        “Failed” in 1980. Yes. The Adirondack Railway was *GROSSLY* mismanaged, to a point where it simply collapsed. Not going into details here as they can be found elsewhere, but yes. It failed. Status of railroad: Common Carrier

        That’s two ‘fails’ by my count. Where is the third?

        The status of the railroad in 2016? EXCURSION LINE. One can not even begin to compare a common carrier rail line with that of an excursion. By that rationale, *every* excursion train running today is on the tracks of a railroad which isn’t there anymore, so therefor they should all be failing now, because hey: they failed before, right?

        Do some history checking of the facts before you go throwing out a simple blanket statement that has been shot down too many times to mention. It’ll strengthen your argument.

  9. Hope says:

    Gibson apparently fails to acknowledge that snowmobiling has been done on this corridor continuously for 40 plus years, that it is an officially designated snowmobile trail C-7,that is excluded from the mileage cap and that snowmobiling on the corridor was addressed in the 1996 UMP and acknowledged as an important use of the corridor that should be continued. alternate #7 doesn’t change that.

  10. Bruce says:

    I’m probably going to catch hell for this, but here goes:

    Ever since the beginning, this subject has been rife with opinion and interpretation. It amazes me how the same thing can be seen any number of ways, depending upon one’s point of view. For example, does the corridor and ROW exist for trains only? Not if you consider the fact that the state and ASR allow snowmobile use on the tracks when trains are not running. Then it’s clearly a trail. It only takes a very small extension to say that if the tracks are removed, what you have left is a trail.

    217 letters expressing differing points of view is hardly the the basis for a decision which will ultimately affect thousands of people, both inside and outside the blue line. There is no solution which will please everyone, and the APA of 1996 is not the APA of 2016,

    My point here is in the final analysis, it is the job of the current APA to make the final decision. Let them make it, and then support it so it has the best chance of success.

  11. AdkBuddy says:

    As Dave Gibson thinks, so thinks Dave Gibson. Pull the tracks and lets grow this economy.

  12. Sunita Halasz says:

    Yes, Hope, you are correct! And I think we all can agree that snowmobiling is definitely part of the mix that makes up recreational and job opportunities in our Park and should be respected. But the confusing part of this that the APA has to weigh in on is what Bruce is saying – do the tracks define the Travel Corridor? There are numerous places (even more than the ones Dave Gibson has noted in this article) where the SLMP says the rails are the thing that allow for the Travel Corridor designation. So, if the rails are removed, then the Travel Corridor is removed, and then the lands revert back to Wild Forest and Canoe Area, in which case the C-7 trail falls under the mileage cap in WF, and access restrictions in Canoe Areas, as does cycling.

    I think our diverse, articulate, valid opinions are what make our Park fantastic. And I think we all debate them in a generally respectable and calm way for all the various strong feelings we have on the issues. (The rest of America should follow our example for citizen involvement! Honestly, I think the SLMP and APA Act have boot-strapped all of us from all opinion camps to a higher intelligence level!)

    We have to see this UMP amendment as not JUST a snowmobile issue or JUST a train issue or JUST a cycling issue. Since we all live with the legacy of long-range regional planning surrounding us here in the Park, we have to respect the mix of people and recreation and jobs and environmental concerns and everything else that goes into a big, long travel corridor that spans our Park. As Bruce says, we have to let the APA do their job. I would slightly change that to: let the APA do their MANDATED job.

    • Steve says:

      You say the land “reverts” back to some classification. By definition, that means it was classified as something else previously. When was that and when did it change to become a travel corridor? I don’t think the railroad was ever IN the canoe are. Also, what other lands in the park have automatically reverted or changed to another classification without the APA following the full classification procedure? Land does not get automatically classified.

      To the point about the milage cap, the cap was based on an estimate of trails in 1972 but the APA picked an arbitrary limit above that. Do you honestly think they wouldn’t just adjust the cap to account for an existing trail? The cap was an interpretation of vague language in the master plan.

      Clearly prefer the train, but I think you trying to argue using the red tape as the basis for why a train is better speaks volumes. I think train supporters have given up on arguing for why a tourist train is better than a trail. Shouldn’t the state make a decision on what is the best use and fix the plan accordingly?

      The tourist train IS recreation. So is cycling and snowmobiling.

      • James Falcsik says:

        I can’t speak for all rail supporters, but nobody that I know has given up on debating why preserving the railroad is a better choice; that argument will continue until the rails are pulled out, and likely beyond. However, at this point the APA is deciding on what is legal in context to the SLMP, so that is where the discussion needs to go. Even APA Chairwoman Leilani Ulrich made public statements to the effect the loss of the railroad made no sense to a region with transportation problems. The APA is not deciding on what is best; only that it is compliant with the SLMP.

      • Sunita Halasz says:

        If you read my other comment that I am behaving like a URLP – you are totally a URGP: an UnRegistered Geography Practitioner! Great thoughts here. It all has to do with points, lines, and polygons, which are map elements that someone draws (hopefully some intelligent person) that have all sorts of ramifications on the ground. So, at the moment, the Travel Corridor is the boundary (line) of these other land classifications, as well as being a corridor (area, or polygon). The SLMP describes a Travel Corridor as an overlay over its underlying land classification. P. 14 of the SLMP says, “The Wild Scenic and Recreational Rivers and Travel Corridors classifications are essentially corridor overlays to the basic land classification(s) through which the corridor passes.” This overlay concept is mentioned again when the SLMP lays out guidelines for management and use of Travel Corridors on p. 47 under guideline #2 “…except in conformity with a finally adopted unit management plan whether for the travel corridor or the underlying land classification.” The adopted 1996 RLP UMP expands on this idea when is states on p. 54 that the Corridor would revert to the classification of “adjacent Forest Preserve units” in the “absence of rail uses.”

        I’m definitely not going to try to be a URLP about the mileage cap issue. All I know is that there’s a hard number and we’re all supposed to comply with it. There are much more knowledgeable people on this comment thread with first hand experience in how the mileage cap gets determined and if it can be changed.

        I do support the train, but I also support the development of trails to connect communities throughout the Park. I know we can do both. ALL the alternatives (even the do-nothing alternative, in some ways!) are expensive, but with a well-thought out plan and a focus to implementing it, we can make a win for everyone. I feel that the greater the diversity in the types of connectors we have in our Park, the more the rising tide will float all our boats. I hate to see the options get limited by one side or the other when we can all work together.

  13. Keith Gorgas says:

    Obviously, the Bloomingdale Bog trail, which allows biking, hiking, skiing, and snowmobiling on an abandoned rail bed, is NOT designated as a travel corridor. What is the difference? A railroad.

    • James Falcsik says:

      Keith; excellent observation. Multi-use recreational trails are not described in any part of the definition of a travel corridor. Additionally, appearing on page 116 of the SLMP is a compilation of travel corridor mileage located in the Adirondack Park. Of the 29 specific travel corridors listed, totaling 1,078 linear miles, not even one (1) mile of snowmobile or multi-use trail is included. 122 of those miles is specifically noted as a railroad.

  14. Lee Keet says:

    Gibson’s view is, in my opinion, seeking a problem where none exists. Calling it the Remsen-Lake Placid rail or train corridor does not define its use, it is just a name. I live on Moir Road in Harrietstown. It is not a road, it is a right-of-way. The name defines where it is, not who may use it or how. We, the land owners who maintain it can close it at any time, despite the name “road”.

    Similarly, the “railroad” corridor does not describe its legal status or use, it merely tells us where it is. It is already used by snowmobiles, skiers, rail bikes, and only occasionally and only for a fraction of its length, by a railroad. And, if I am not mistaken, the scenic trains that run occasionally are not a “railroad”, they are an entirely different use.

    If we start imputing legal status and uses based on descriptive names we are all in trouble.

    • James Falcsik says:

      RAILROAD: a system of tracks on which trains travel: a company that owns and operates trains: a permanent road having a line of rails fixed to ties and laid on a roadbed and providing a track for cars or equipment drawn by locomotives or propelled by self-contained motors; also: such a road and its assets constituting a single property.

      Mr. Keet, that you would state the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is not a railroad is ridiculous. Whether ASR or any other railroad company, the Remsen-Lake Placid railroad corridor is a railroad.

      The problem that exists here for the APA commissioners is to stop the twisting and spinning of the SLMP and DEC in trying to remove this public asset at your hand, with your commissioned economic impact statements.

      • Bruce says:

        James F,

        Mr. Keet did not say the ASR was not a railroad. He was saying that the term “rail corridor” as used in these discussions is not a legal definition, but rather an indication of use. In fact, in the SLMP it is called a “travel corridor,” not a “rail corridor.”

        Here is what the SLMP says about “travel corridor” usage (which specifically includes the Remsen to Lake Placid rail line):

        ” The primary travel corridor guideline will be to achieve and maintain a park-like atmosphere on state lands within the travel corridor that complements the total Adirondack environment.”

        How is removing the rails and building a trail not within these guidelines?

        • Sunita Halasz says:

          There are a lot of places in the SLMP where they address the designation/definition of Travel Corridors, and specifically the railroad. You probably have much more important things to do with your life, but if you’d like to waste some of your precious moments on earth reading my long public comment letter that details all the SLMP stuff, you are welcome. 🙂 You can scroll right to the section about the SLMP which is about a third of the way down. I don’t know if I can paste a link here, but I’ll try: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1_JLTfYyqrN82EAZoTv2KcUbdpBthhGhhnX12BZxchuc/pub and here is that link with spaces that you can copy-paste and remove the spaces to get it to work. https:// docs.google.com/ document/d/1_JLTfYyqrN82EAZoTv2KcUbdpBthhGhhnX12BZxchuc/pub

        • W Ordway says:

          Um, Bruce…you may want to scroll up and reread Keet’s message. If you don’t care to, then allow me to cut and paste:

          Lee Keet says: “And, if I am not mistaken, the scenic trains that run occasionally are not a “railroad”,”

          I could be wrong here, but that sure as hell sounds like Lee saying that the ASR is not a RR to *me*.

    • joe says:

      Like the way we use the term wilderness to describe newly acquired land that is clearly not wilderness? Oh what a tangled web we weave around here…

  15. ADKerDon says:

    If Gibson opposes the plan then it is good for the folks in the Adirondacks. His organization and others have been trying to destroy the economy, jobs and all expansion of year-round tourism forever. They are only interested in driving everyone out of the Adirondacks, genocide of the Adirondack people. Keep the railroad running! Keep the snowmobile trail open! Expand uses of the Adirondacks!

  16. Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

    APA staff were a party to the 1996 UMP that acknowledged the option (#4) of full recreational use. The UMP further stated that the APSLMP would need a minor amendment to make it clear that the Travel Corridor status would remain even without the rails in place. Consistent with that UMP statement, the proposed changes to the APSLMP simply delete the word “railroad”, leaving “right-of-way” to define the Corridor. If you don’t want the rails removed, you can say that change is inadequate. Those of us who do favor rail removal say that this is just the change prescribed by the 1996 UMP.

    I will yet again remind everyone that the 1996 UMP only provided the “opportunity” for an operator to develop rail service – mostly with private funds. The State has not failed to implement the plan, and in fact has provided over $10 million for rehabilitation. It is ARPS that has failed to find the necessary private funding despite having been given a huge head start with the public funding.

    The 1996 UMP clearly states that there can be no parallel trail – only that the DEC should develop trails on and around the Corridor “where possible”. And the DEC did not reject the TRAC proposal “out of hand”. If you read the proposed amendment, you will see that there are a full 15 pages detailing all of the places where a parallel trail is not feasible. What more do you want?

    • Sunita Halasz says:

      Tony, you are right that the 1996 UMP does examine an array of different alternatives, including the one you have pointed out. Just like they did with those alternatives in 1996, this new alternative, “Alternative 7,” under SEQR, needs have a robust analysis of how it compares to all the other alternatives set forth in the 1996 plan and prove why it is the best alternative. I would even argue that the current UMP amendment should offer even *more* alternatives than just Alternative 7 to show that the full range of planning options has been considered. There are a lot more options for what we could do with this corridor, though I think Alt 6 from the 1996 is the most win-win that has been proposed to date. Because a comparison to the alternatives from the 1996 plan was never done in the proposed amendment, the proposal does not conform to SEQR (not to mention the SLMP). All in all, the actual “planning” on this plan amendment is pretty shabby! and we need the professionals at the APA to feel empowered to examine it thoroughly.

      • Sunita Halasz says:

        I also want to point out that the SLMP amendment proposal to change the word “railroad” to “right-of-way” is poorly done by the APA since they proposed to slip it in as a “minor and ministerial” wording change. It’s also poorly done because, as Dave notes in his article, there are other places in the SLMP where the word “railroad” is used, not just the one spot they proposed to change in the SLMP amendments. It makes it look hastily done when they only changed the word in one place and stuck it in under “minor and ministerial.” It makes it look like they were trying to slip it in prior to the reading of this proposed UMP amendment. Most state people I’ve heard from about this have maintained that yes, it’s totally just a word change and nothing more. It’s interesting that you’re saying that it really does have a relationship to the proposed UMP amendment, as I suspected… It’s bad for the state agencies to appear as though they’ve approved something without going through a formal review.

        • Steve says:

          Like following proper to sites for bidding out IT work?

          • Sunita Halasz says:

            You are referring to the State Ethics Commission inquiry into my husband’s contract work at the APA when I was staff there a decade ago. I’m pleased that that was all cleared up and shown to be above-board and nothing awkward. In fact, I think everyone should have an ethics commission inquiry at least once in their lives for the awesome outpouring of support it provides! I’m not sure who exactly you are, but I’d be totally happy to meet with you to discuss SLMP issues, positive community-building in the Park, or even my ethics commission experience, if it is of that much interest. We should all work together, and I’d be happy to work with you.

            • Steve says:

              No. I had no knowledge of that and was not referring to that at all. I was referring to the dud Adirondack tourism Adirondack Recreation portal website that was written about here.

          • James Falcsik says:

            Steve; you are out of line. Sunita’s response to you is an example of kindness you do not deserve. There was no need to make a personal irrelevant attack like that here on someone obviously well informed on the subject; unless you don’t care for the message, and that is all you have.

    • Big Burly says:

      Mr. Goodwin,
      In all your commentary about the ARPS, and the ASR operation it sponsors privately developing passenger rail, you consistently fail to mention that NYS, the owner of the corridor lands has only offered an operating lease not exceeding 30 days renewable.
      Further your comments in this post and elsewhere for the past number of years has characterized the money NYS has reimbursed to ARPS for infrastructure improvements and maintenance as some sort of subsidy. Folks who own stuff ought to pay for keeping up their property. That’s how it works.
      A comment in the Daily Enterprise article regarding the resolution passed by Franklin County seems appropriate regarding the TRAC proposal … “I have not ever seen the DEC be so precise and so specific about why a trail couldn’t be done. Or why the trail that has been designed with their help couldn’t be built.”

  17. Paul says:

    Dave actually does have a point. Just because it is a designated snowmobile trail doesn’t mean it is a travel corridor w/o the tracks. That could fit for other snowmobile trails as well. There have been lots of RR’s in the Adirondacks.

  18. Sunita Halasz says:

    Lee, I am happy that we are both working on this issue “together-ish” because I think we, and our co-advocates, are all really caring, conscientious community members of our whole 6-million acre neighborhood, no matter what side we’re on. I offer a respectfully debated comment that descriptive names do have legal status throughout our society – doctors/lawyers/teachers/etc can only legally practice their craft so long as they meet the legal requirements to hold whatever moniker they work hard to possess. (Though I do have an uncle in India who calls himself a URMP – UnRegistered Medical Practitioner – and gives great health advice! And with this comment I’m wading into the waters of URLP – UnRegistered Legal Practitioner!) Similarly, roads can be state roads, interstate, county roads, town roads, ROWs, even abandoned roads, and paper roads, and they all have different legal status and different entities who are in charge of maintaining them. (Jim McCulley could give us the best advice here!) Similarly, in the Park, we have Wild and Scenic and Recreational Rivers and even those have a legal status in NYS. Though never formally adopted into law, the definitions of Wilderness, Wild Forest, Canoe, Travel Corridor, etc. are guiding terms in the SLMP with the force of law. Marc Wanner said it very well above, that we have these legal terms for the purpose of a common language that “balances competing interests.” We should all be very careful about trying to weaken the SLMP because one day we might wish we had it as strong as ever. One final note – it really is a railroad because the Federal Railway Admin./FHWA are involved in overseeing operations in the working corridor.

    • Keith Gorgas says:

      Sunita touched on something at the end of her last comment that really has not gotten the attention it deserves: the involvement of the Federal government and Federal law when a railroad is involved. There’s a lot of history that I can’t cover in this forum, but in a nutshell, when the RRs were expanding in the late 1800s, great power was given to take access to private lands through Right of Ways. Explicit in the granting of these powers were reversion clauses, and a process for formal abandonment of a railroad. The DEC seems to have taken down their claim of “in fee ownership” of the corridor as it passes through private lands, at least I can no longer find it on their web site. Recent rulings by the Supreme Court have enforced the doctrine that when a railroad is formally abandoned, and no longer used as a railroad, the land reverts to the adjoining landowner. This has last been proved by a 7 to 1 margin in 2014. The Right of Way is a ROW for a railroad and that’s all. Now, with the Adirondack Scenic RR, a large portion of the surrounding land is State Land, but around Lake Placid, Saranac Lake, Lake Clear, and Tupper Lake there are numerous adjoining land owners. The legal can of worms that would be opened by abandoning the rails is almost mind boggling. Furthermore, Federal Railroad law provides that any other railroad may lay claim to a right of way in the first 30 days after abandonment is filed for. It’s my huntch that this is reason that the Camoin Ass. report suggests a waiting time of 5 or 6 years between the destruction of the Historic railroad and the filing for legal abandonment… that way the legal character of the corridor can be changed and it would be impossible for another railroad to ever reconstruct the line, no matter what the future need may prove to be.

  19. Tim-Brunswick says:

    I’m with Steve, ADKer Don, etc, etc. ………….Mr. Gibson seems to automatically criticize anything that DEC proposes.

  20. Stephen Erman says:

    I am pleased that David Gibson wrote this well reasoned and informative commentary. He, more than most, is a scholar on the Forest Preserve and its constitutional and statutory protections. This is to be respected regardless of one’s personal stake in outcomes. Fortunately, the Adirondack Park Agency board and staff wrestle over legal interpretations (including how meanings change through the placement of a comma or the use of such words as “railroad.”) and they typically engage in discussions based on facts. I am optimistic that this will be done, in public, on Thursday. I thank David and Adirondack Wild for knowledgeable contributions to the dialogue.

    • Steve says:

      So ANCA is aligning itself with Dave Gibson’s group. Never thought I’d see the day. How does ANCA feel about this scholars opposition the the State selling Camp Gabriel’s or the democratically approved NYCO swap?

      • Big Burly says:

        Your comment about Mr. Erman’s input and tying that to ANCA is a stretch. Erman said nothing about ANCA. That Mr. Erman has more than a quarter century of service with the APA and its workings might have been a more appropriate support by you of his thoughtful intervention.

        • Tony Goodwin Tony Goodwin says:

          Responding to your earlier comment I agree that, yes, NYS is the owner of the Corridor. As the owner, the state has the duty to make sure that the Corridor is managed responsibly and that control over the Corridor is not given to an entity like the Adirondack Rail Corp. that was given a 20-year lease and then quickly went bankrupt. Once burned, twice cautious.

          Ray Hessinger, DOT’s point man on this issue said at an earlier APA meeting that DOT had offered ARPS a long-term contract, but that the two sides could not agree on terms. Mr. Hessinger did not offer any details, and I would be very interested if there are any ARPS people from 20 years ago who could shed any additional light on why there was no agreement. My guess is that DOT wanted to make sure that they were not yet again stuck with an entity that had a long-term lease but couldn’t continue operations. Given that the most recent audit reports on ARPS have a “going concern” warning, the DOT may have been correct in not being saddled with a long-term lease.

          As for the finances of “Corridor maintenance”, ARPS filings indicate an annual grant from NYS of $250,000 to $350,000. Digging a little deeper, the amount expended on “maintenance-of-way” is much less than the grant. What else is the grant supporting? General operations?

          • James Falcsik says:

            There sure is a whole lot of information being tossed about on this forum that has nothing to do with Dave Gibson’s article. I guess you take your shots when you can.

            Tony, you and I have debated this a few times, and nothing changes. ARPS offered to take over the railroad (Adirondack Railway) and assume control of the corridor from NYS. At least that is what appears to have been the proposal in the documentation I have; I did share this with you didn’t I? If not, provide an email and I’ll send it. NYS wanted to retain corridor ownership. It is more likely this is where they were not able to come to an agreement, and the 30 day lease became the status quo….for 20+ years. Two parties failed to come to agreement. This is not on the shoulders of ARPS alone.

            My guess is you would have great difficulty finding investors for your business venture that might not have a place to do business in 45 days. Who would invest in developing anything associated with the rail operation that could vaporize with the change of administration following an election? It needed to be a long term lease and NYS acknowledged this. How does someone invest in a non-profit you ask? Well ARPS was originally only interesting in managing the corridor, not operating trains. They offered to hire subcontractors to operate trains to guard against the rail company failing and to preserve the capital investments by NYS. It is all there in black and white. Surely LLC’s and other corporate structures could have been created to enable investments for rail operations, land development, resorts, etc. It works in the rest of the country, but there are challenges to this in the AP.

            That was a long time ago Tony. The business deal and Alternate 6 was not implemented as designed. The people then are not all the people now, and certainly not the current management team that has made excellent strides to reduce debt, upgrade equipment, and develop this tourist attraction. You want a trail, that’s fine. But it is time to stop making a villain out of ARPS.

  21. Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

    Recently, the Franklin County Legislature passed a resolution in favor of keeping the rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid. Today the Tupper Lake Free Press published a letter from more than 80 businesses objecting to that vote. The businesses argue that a rail trail will help the local economy. The link was provided by ARTA.

    http://www.thearta.org/Tupper%20Lake%20Business%20Protest.pdf

    • James Falcsik says:

      Thanks Phil.

      Can you also confirm the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency voted last evening, 7 to 0, to support rail corridor retention and full restoration?

      • Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

        I cannot.

        • James Falcsik says:

          I asked for you to be sent the resolution following our posting exchange this morning. You may have received something in the early afternoon.

          The following was circulated by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad:

          COUNTY OF FRANKLIN INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT AGENCY ADOPTS RESOLUTION #2016 – 1 – IN RELATION TO THE RETENTION OF RAILROAD TRACKS BETWEEN TUPPER LAKE AND LAKE PLACID WITH TRAILS ALONGSIDE THE TRACK.

          The actual resolution appears on Franklin County IDA letterhead.

          • Phil Brown Phil Brown says:

            I have since seen the resolution. I found it odd that a Franklin County IDA would urge that the train be allowed to continue to Lake Placid because Franklin County–i.e., Franklin County–is not as attractive a destination.

            • Big Burly says:

              Phil Brown,
              You would probably be surprised to learn that 70% + of ticket originations on the LP to SL run start in LP each year. The IDA probably had that information and considered it an important element in economic impacts for Franklin County.

      • Curt Austin says:

        If they did, it was from the narrow perspective suggested by their name. Have they brought many heavy industries to Franklin County?

        • Big Burly says:

          Curt Austin,
          Something in excess of 75% of Franklin County lies within the Blue Line, subject to APA land use oversight. Heavy industries ? Not. Tourism related, supported and championed by our Gov — like a restored passenger railroad connected to the NA network at Utica that would provide a necessary transportation element for residents and visitors of all ages and abilities? Probably a solid reason to support keeping the rails AND investing in trails — the win-win.

          • John Warren John Warren says:

            Just because 75% percent of Franklin County lies within the Blue Line that does not mean that 75% of the land is subject to APA oversight. The APA has jurisdiction in about 20% of land use proposals, and has a 40-year track record of approving over 99% of all projects that have ever come before the board.

    • Hope says:

      ARTA did not start or solicit this petition. It was done concerned citizens. Among the signatories are:Tupper Lake Free Press and The Adirondack Club and Resort among many others with more signing everyday.

      • James Falcsik says:

        It is natural for TL businesses to support Alt. 7, since they would receive the economic diversity of rails and trails; can’t blame them at all. The “win-win” as some describe.

        Why do you make this statement over on NCPR if you say ARTA did not have anything to do with this petition?: “Since its been published more businesses have contacted us to sign up.”

      • Paul says:

        Hasn’t the decision to move forward with the “two state” solution already been made? It is just a matter of making sure it is legal w/o some changes to the ASLMP. Isn’t getting more signatures moot at this stage. Seems almost like rubbing salt into the wounds of the folks that are unhappy with the decision. Why not just move on?

        • Boreas says:

          Paul,

          I believe most of the wailing and gnashing of teeth is because no one got what they wanted. The only people that are happy are the ones willing to see the compromise as an opportunity, not a problem.

      • Big Burly says:

        Ms. Frenette
        It is unseemly — perhaps even illegal? — that the petition referred to and printed in the TLFP was circulated by a Village employee with enforcement authority.

  22. John says:

    Decisions been made, the vote has been taken: THE RAILS ARE GONE!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. Eric says:

    Fact #1 – There will NEVER be a railroad running from Utica to Lake Placid.

    Fact #2 – Hardly anyone visits the Adirondacks to go on a silly train ride that has no views and no vistas. It’s just something to do.

    Fact #3 – The people of the corridor, through their elected representatives, what the tracks out.

    Fact #4 – Unlike riding a train, families are attracted to areas with bike trails. A great marketing plan could really make a big difference in terms of tourism.

    Fact #5 – There still is the railroad from Utica to Theandra. That makes economic sense. It will always be there.

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