The state is considering buying the only two parcels it doesn’t own in the 34-mile rail corridor between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake, which would remove a legal impediment to replacing the train tracks with a recreational trail. Another option is to obtain an easement that would allow the public to use the parcels.
Evidently, though, some kind of agreement with the landowners needs to be reached for the state to go ahead with its controversial plan to remove the tracks.
The Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which for years has operated a seasonal tourist train out of Lake Placid, has gone to court to block the removal of the rails.
After a hearing in late January, acting State Supreme Court Justice Robert G. Main Jr. asked the state to provide more information on the ownership of the corridor. Assistant Attorneys General Marie Chery-Sekhobo and Nicholas Buttino complied with the request in a memorandum of law sent to the judge last week.
In the memorandum, they say the two parcels are the only sections of the nearly 120-mile Adirondack Rail Corridor — which extends from Remsen, north of Utica, to Lake Placid — that are not owned by the state.
“Ultimately, out of the approximately 120-mile Travel Corridor, the State does not own fee title to less than one mile of the Travel Corridor — 2,995 feet in Saranac Lake and 960 feet in the Village of Lake Placid,” the assistant attorneys general wrote the judge.
The Saranac Lake parcel is jointly owned by Essex County, Franklin County, and North Country Community College. The other parcel is owned by the Lake Placid-North Elba Historical Society, which owns the depot at the terminus of the line.
Chery-Sekhobo and Buttino say the state holds an easement on the Saranac Lake property “for railroad operations and other public uses … unless the easement is terminated.” The letter goes on to say that the easement will be terminated if (i) “the use of the railroad tracks is formally abandoned” by the government and (ii) “the railroad tracks are removed from the Travel Corridor.”
Presumably, the Lake Placid easement is similar, but the Almanack has not been able to confirm that.
Evidently, then, the easements would end if the tracks are removed, but the state has said it is working with landowners to come to a new arrangement. “These options include abandoning all rights reserved by each easement over both parcels by removing the railroad tracks, then purchasing the properties in fee, or in the alternative, acquiring an easement over the properties,” Chery-Sekhobo and Buttino say in the memorandum.
After the January hearing, Justice Main had also asked the state to provide more information on its plans to comply with State Historic Preservation Law. The Adirondack Rail Corridor is on the state and national Registers of Historic Places.
The state acknowledges that removing the tracks will result in an adverse impact to the historic resources, but officials say they will mitigate this by fixing up buildings in the corridor and installing educational signs, among other things.
At the January hearing, Chery-Sekhobo presented the judge with a “Letter of Resolution” that outlined the measures to be taken. The railroad’s lawyer, Jonathan Fellows, argued the letter was insufficient. He insisted that the state needs to prepare a more detailed mitigation plan.
In the latest memorandum, Chery-Sekhobo and her colleague argue that the state has complied with the Historic Preservation Law, saying some decisions cannot be made until the project is underway. “The law neither calls for a separate mitigation plan beyond development of the Letter of Resolution, nor mandates that a Letter of Resolution contain specific details about commitments by parties, including a firm timeline for implementation,” the attorneys assert.
They asked the judge to dismiss the part of the lawsuit that alleges the state has not followed the Historic Preservation Law.
The railway society has until March 20 to respond to the memorandum of law.
The society is suing the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Transportation, and Adirondack Park Agency. Last year, DEC and DOT approved a plan to divide the Adirondack Rail Corridor into an 85-mile rail segment and a 34-mile trail segment. The APA ruled that the project complied with the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan.
Although the state intends to remove 34 miles of track, it also plans to repair 45 miles of largely unused track between Big Moose and Tupper Lake. This would enable ASR to run trains all the way from Utica to Tupper.
Click the link below to read the memorandum of law.
Photo of tourist train arriving in Saranac Lake by Susan Bibeau.