Tuesday, March 14, 2017

State Considers Buying Adirondack Rail-Trail Parcels

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.

memorandum

Photo of tourist train arriving in Saranac Lake by Susan Bibeau.


Phil Brown

Since 1999, Phil Brown has been Editor of the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack.

Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing.

He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.

Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.




39 Responses

  1. Keith Gorgas says:

    It certainly will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next month.

  2. Paul says:

    So all the rest of the corridor is owned by the state? I would have guessed that there would have been more easement agreements like this.

    I would not mind a bike trail running behind my house (if its not too busy) not sure I would want snowmobiles doing 50MPH coming through.

  3. Ronald 7 says:

    “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.”

    Why bother? The ASR cannot afford to run trains to Tupper. It’s one thing for all their volunteers to volunteer for the trip to Thendara. It’s another thing to schlep all the way to Tupper. Just tear them up already.

    • dbogdan00632@roadrunner.com says:

      Ronald 7,

      And how do you know that the ASR cannot afford to run trains to Tupper Lake? They have been running trains on the corridor for over 22 years and they can make it happen. Let’s have both the rails and trail already! We probably could already have a parallel trail from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid if everyone cooperated.

      • ben says:

        Let’s see, just look at the financial reports from ASR, they barely survive now with what they run, and that’s a stretch if the state didn’t give them loans/handouts every year.

      • Boreas says:

        Thank you ASR for being so generous with the corridor you lease month-to-month from NYS. I like your proposal of getting everything you want first, then let the state of NY and local communities figure out how to pay for an additional parallel trail that has been previously ruled out by NYS, if it is technically possible. Would ASR be willing to help cover the costs from their profits? The people who haven’t ‘cooperated’ are the people who would have to pay for it.

        But seriously folks, let’s not forget, ROW issues of constructing a parallel trail through private property would still be present, and could even be more challenging due to the wider footprint and multiple uses. And why only SL to LP? That wouldn’t be a very long trail – about a 1-2 hour bike ride.

    • Bruce says:

      Ronald,

      Short sighted thinking like “the ASR cannot afford to run trains to Tupper,” is how nothing happens. You completely overlook the fact that a nice, satisfying train ride connecting to a potentially world class trail or other activities can only mean good things for Tupper Lake.

      People pay big bucks for longer train rides, especially if they connect with something else to do, rather than simply turn around and go back. Remsen to Tupper would be one of the longer ones in the country. It also pays to remember the Wild Center is going great guns, and I can envision an excursion which provides transportation between TL station and the Wild Center.

      You also have to consider that the section between Big Moose and Tupper Lake is markedly different than between Tupper and Lake Placid. I mean, where do you find amenities for hikers, bikers and the like? The section between TL and LP has 3 already tourist-oriented towns in 34 miles, towns with amenities already in place.

  4. Dan Bogdan says:

    Sure hope the Lake Placid/ North Elba Historical society won’t voluntarily sell or provide the title of their parcel of land along the right of way to allow for trail conversion. It would strongly go against their mission of preserving the community history. The best option for preserving community history is to keep the railroad infrastructure. And keeping the railroad infrastructure is completely feasible and desired by most of New Yorkers.

    • Ben says:

      And how do you know what most NY’ers want. Have you ever seen a poll stating that fact, or are you just making it up. History is just that “its history”, if there are ways to improve something or provide a better economic input into a community, I guess “History”, just needs to be that “HISTORY”. Time for the rails to go, history can be maintained along the bike path with signs & historical markers. What ya going to do when the state no longer gives you that lease to operate a scenic railroad & it all just becomes overgrown. How ya going to maintain your history then!

      • Keith Gorgas says:

        Public Comment ran roughly 70,000 to 15,000 in favor of Renovating the Rails with an accompanying recreational trail.

        • Boreas says:

          Keith,

          That poll would be significant if indeed it were a feasible option. But until someone can convince the state it IS feasible AND the state comes up with a way to pay for both, those particular numbers don’t mean much. Certainly many people would prefer to have both with a parallel rail & trail. But if the state won’t budge on a parallel trail, the only way to have both is the current compromise solution.

    • Boreas says:

      Dan,

      Does the train stop there now? With pedestrians, skiers, and cyclists using the trail and any historical signage/kiosks that would be installed they could learn a lot – especially if they visited the Historical Society while taking a break on the trail.

  5. David P. Lubic says:

    On what might be a bit of a side issue, it looks like the snowmobile sport is a dead horse, at least as far as the idea of expanding facilities for it is concerned.

    I’m looking at the ISMA’s Snowmobiling Fact Book, and while I’m not absolutely, 100% sure these are really current statistics (the report doesn’t have a date), but the more I look at them, in particular the snowmobile sales figures, I think it is current, though we’ll have to wait for the New York Snowmobile Season report for confirmation.

    What is interesting, if the fact book does have current numbers and registration data, is that there are only 91,784 registered sleds in New York. For comparison, the registered sleds in the most recent (2015-2016) official New York State snowmobile report numbered 91,542. If this 91,784 units is the current number, we are looking at an increase in registration of only 242 units. This is far below 121,539 for 2014-2015, which was just before the extremely poor season of 2015-2016, and is only 56% of the peak snowmobile registrations of 165,635 in 2002-2003.

    In other words, there may have been essentially no recovery from that bad year–and the decline is quite long term, going back at least 14 years.

    http://www.snowmobile.org/docs/isma-snowmobiling-fact-book.pdf

    • David P. Lubic says:

      The 2015-2016 Snowmobile Season Report, with the registration and trend data on Page 13:

      https://parks.ny.gov/recreation/snowmobiles/documents/SnowmobileSeasonReport.pdf

    • Paul says:

      We sold fewer electric cars in 2015 than in 2014 is that a dead one too?

      It is true that even having a growing share of a shrinking market is not even the best position to be in. This trail would have multiple uses so what is happening with that one market is not all you need to consider. 90,000 still seems like a pretty decent market.

      • James Falcsik says:

        90,000 is a decent share of what market? 90,000 registered sleds, most of which are NYS residents mean there is little gain. Snowmobile folk go where it snows, they move their spend around, but for NYS as a whole it is net zero gain.

        It should be a dead horse because even the flawed economic impact study the DEC relied on stated the rail corridor, whether rails removed or not, would not make a difference in economic impact.

        • Paul says:

          90,000 people participating in a relatively expensive sport isn’t a market?

          • James Falcsik says:

            Paul, you need to put the sled ridership in the context of the purpose of the rail trail conversion. 85% of the registered sleds belong to NYS residents. Their recreational spend in the state is a given, regardless of where they ride, which is mostly dependent on weather conditions. Only out of state sleds, trail users, or train riders matter when it comes to the economic impact of trail vs. rail. Local users of any of these venues do not contribute to the economic growth of the region.

            One thing wrong with the snowmobile impact in the EIS used by NYS concerning Alternate 7 was they contributed all of the OOS ridership of the NYSSA survey to the North Country Region, rather than properly allocating the values across the state. Flawed economic data is one of the issues before the judge in the ASR lawsuit.

            • David P Lubic says:

              James brings up an important point, which is that not all snowmobilers, trail users, and for that matter railroad passengers are equal as far as economic development is concerned.

              Most trails are patronized by local users. They can be good people, good citizens, they can appreciate the amenity. . .but they and their money are already here. They aren’t going to spend more on eating out, buying gasoline, or drinking more beer.

              What you want is people who wouldn’t otherwise be spending their money here. This is where the emphasis on out of the region and out of state users comes into play. Those out of staters and others will be spending money that is “new,” money that would otherwise be spent somewhere else.

              That reminds me–if the sled crowd is 85% in state, what is the ratio of passengers that’s in state vs. out of state? It wouldn’t surprise me if the ratio of out of state customers was much higher than for the sled and hike crowd. Even out of the region people–say, just from Utica–would be a help in the Adirondacks.

              This is one case where you DO want out of towners around!

              In effect, you want to be able to say, “Keep the Adirondacks green! Leave your money here!”

              • James Falcsik says:

                For the ASR, 45% of ticket sales on the north end, SL to LP, are to OOS customers. Out of Utica it is 8%. Rail Explorers had a higher percentage of out of region visitors. At least they did..all gone now.

            • Paul says:

              I get what you are saying and some of that is true.

              “Local users of any of these venues do not contribute to the economic growth of the region.”

              This isn’t true. What are the folks who live in Manhattan and go out to dinner not contributing to the economy because they are not tourists. Of course not.

              Something that encourages people to spend money, be it a new rail trail, an extended scenic RR, or one that runs from Utica to LP can create new economic opportunities.

              Whether that is measured properly in this case is certainly debatable.

              Personally I support the idea of a tourist RR running the whole length of that line. Is it the best thing for economic growth? I have no idea.

            • Paul says:

              For the analysis the focus here should be on local economic impact not on statewide economic impact.

              “Local users of any of these venues do not contribute to the economic growth of the region.”

              Again of course they do. More people spending money locally because there is a new facility brings money into the local economy. I am a (part-time I have a house there) local person and if I spend my money in and around Saranac Lake rather than spending it say on a ski trip to somewhere like Colorado that has a positive local impact. Lets use the example of that I spend my money at home on a scenic RR rather than going to Colorado to use the Durango and Silverton for a hiking trip as an example.

      • David P Lubic says:

        A decline from one year to the next isn’t a big deal.

        A decline of 44% over 14 or more years is a much more serious matter. So is a failure to recover from what would have been a freaky year in the past, and especially if it is following the 14 year decline.

        That doesn’t sound like such a good market to me.

    • Boreas says:

      “On what might be a bit of a side issue, it looks like the snowmobile sport is a dead horse, at least as far as the idea of expanding facilities for it is concerned.”

      Governor Cuomo seems to be a fan, especially of Class II community connector trails. I guess he is the one to convince with regard to expanding facilities for sleds.

      • Balian the Cat says:

        Boreas, I imagine he is more of a fan of the Snowmobile Lobby than he is connector trails – regardless of Class.

    • James Falcsik says:

      All interesting data David, but there is one metric that matters the most; the out of state registration numbers.

      In 2014-15 the OOS sleds registered in NYS was 17373; in 2015-16 it is 15,126. This is a 13% drop. The OOS snowmobilers are the key to economic impact, and where they ride is also important, with respect the rail corridor.

  6. Bruce says:

    I don’t believe the snowmobile business is going to stand or fall based on trail availability, because if you look at the snowmobile trail map for the Adirondacks, there are lots of trails. I believe the climate will have a far greater effect, and the areas getting lake-affect snow will be the last bastions of New York snowmobiling.

    The outlook for winter sports outside snow-making areas is not looking good in the long term. Look at the lakes and the amount of ice compared to the 50’s and 60’s. One lake a bit further south, Oneida, is near and dear to my heart because I was raised on its shores. What used to freeze several feet thick is now spotty, sometimes with a total thaw in mid-winter as it did this year. Snow cover in Old Forge has been off and on all winter.

    I realize this is speculation, but it’s speculation based on over 50 years of observation.

    • David P Lubic says:

      Thank you, Bruce, for a level headed comment on not just snowmobiles, but the whole winter sports economy that meant so much for the Adirondacks in the past.

      It is an excellent argument, along with the statistics, against the snowmobile crowd that is a noisy part of the drive to take up the railroad.

      It is an argument also to look at other things for the future.

      Maybe the park administration people and others need to not be so extreme at their “forever wild” goals. . .after all, people are important, too.

      • Boreas says:

        “It is an excellent argument, along with the statistics, against the snowmobile crowd that is a noisy part of the drive to take up the railroad.”

        Don’t forget about the other noisy party – NYS! They have already stated they intend to tear up the tracks this fall as part of the compromise decision. If they are looking into buying some parcels they don’t already own, I doubt they have changed their mind. It seems to me, at this point, the argument is essentially over unless they can be blocked in the courts.

      • Bruce says:

        Thanks David,

        I frequently watch Oneida Lake and Town of Webb web cams. Oneida Lake appeared to be completely free of ice a week or two ago, at least all that was visible. I remember in the 50’s and 60’s when the ice would break up in the spring. Trees along the shoreline would have ice piled up to 10′ high as the breakup was blown ashore.

  7. […] State Considers Buying Adirondack Rail-Trail Parcels […]

  8. James Falcsik says:

    Sorry Paul we will disagree. From a statewide perspective, a couple living in Manhattan spending recreation dollars is no different spending it in the city or in Lake Placid. The economic result is redistributed from the merchants and tax base in Manhattan to those in LP, but the net gain to NYS is zero. If I do the same thing in PA but come to LP the net gain is to NYS.

    If you read the EIS for this rail corridor discussion they flat out tell you only out state contributors are tabulated for economic impact, which is the correct way to calculate it. However, the devil is in the details. The RTC study (ARTA) and the Camoin study (ADK Action) both included local contributions and referenced other trail data that also included local contributions. With only at best 4-5% true out of state users in both EIS, the numbers are not nearly high enough to attract the attention of the politicians to stimulate change.

    Look up John L. Crompton, Texas A&M: Economic Impact Studies; Instruments for Political Shenanigans?” You will find this professor who heads the Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences department clearly explains how EIS are misused in order to legitimize a position, not necessarily find the truth. That is what happened with ARTA and this rail corridor/rail trail proposal. The trail lobby does this all over the country and has for 30+ years.

    That is why we have 30 year old trails and little measurable economic impact, unless you are quoting trail advocacy studies. It may be too late for this rail corridor, unless the Judge sees it differently.

  9. scott says:

    As a farmer near Ithaca NY, who, along with my neighbors, has been fighting one of these yuppy bike trails for 9 years, I am sure rooting for the railroad society. Until you have a bunch of totalitarian socialists decide your property is too nice for you alone, and it needs to be sacrificed for the “greater good,” you have no idea what a nightmare and violation it feels like. Bike trails might be fun for people who don’t do physical work for a living, but for the rest of us the idea of dozens of lycra-clad affluent people whizzing by our houses (in my case right through the middle of our 2,000 tree orchard, free fruit!) on $2,000 bikes makes us feel like serfs. Have a little sense, folks, and bike in the park, or on a country road, and respect the rights of property and business owners. Check out southhillrecreationwayorg.wordpress.com

    • Bruce says:

      Scott,

      I feel your pain. I’m curious, how is it even possible for a recreational trail to be considered for private land if the landowner says no? It’s hardly the same thing as rights of way for public utility lines or highways.

      My property has a deeded right of way crossing it for folks living up on the mountain behind me, but when those folks petitioned the state for the road to re-classified as a state road instead of private, I discovered I had the power to stop the project cold if I so desired, although I wouldn’t have, as it would have given me certain advantages. The state ultimately decided it wasn’t going to get involved with the project.

      It seems inconceivable that private land can be condemned and taken for a purely recreational project.

      On a side note: We travel through Ithaca on our way to the Adirondacks for our annual vacation.

  10. Boreas says:

    scott,

    I am sorry you have such a negative feeling about recreation trails. I understand your point of view. However, this situation is drastically different. It is an existing rail corridor within the Adirondack Park and primarily on state land through forested areas, not through private farmland. NYS leases the corridor to ASR via short-term leases and can change that at any time. The future of the corridor is really up to NYS citizens.

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