Joe Hattrup says he can do it for free.
Hattrup asserts that the sale of the rails and other steel hardware would cover the costs of removing the tracks and creating a trail that could be used by snowmobilers in winter and cyclists in other seasons. The trail would have a stone-dust surface suitable for road bikes.
Hattrup is the president of the Iron Horse Preservation Society, a nonprofit group that specializes in converting rail lines into recreational trails. He says he has overseen 15 such projects since 2005.
“These things can pay for themselves. It’s not pie in the sky; the numbers don’t lie,” Hattrup told Adirondack Almanack.
The numbers, however, are very different from those presented by DOT at public meetings in Utica and Old Forge this week.
Iron Horse has provided a written cost estimate for the project to Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a nonprofit that favors removing the rails between Big Moose and Lake Placid. In this document, Hattrup estimates that selling rails and salvaging steel would bring in $5.7 million in revenue, whereas the removal of the rails and ties would cost $4.2 million.
That leaves $1.5 million to construct the trail. Hattrup puts this cost at $1.3 million, leaving about $200,000 for contingencies.
In contrast, DOT estimates that building a trail will cost $200,000 to $220,000 a mile, according to Ray Hessinger, director of the department’s Bureau of Freight and Passenger Rail Bureau.
Hessinger told crowds at this week’s meetings that the revenue from selling steel would not even cover the cost of removing and disposing the rails and ties. The shortfall would add $2.8 million to the expense of creating a trail.
DOT’s estimate assumes the ties would be taken to a landfill. Hattrup says he would take the ties to a facility that would shred them into wood chips for biomass fuel—a less-expensive method of disposal.
In any case, DOT reckons that it will cost $19.2 million to remove the tracks and build a trail. In addition, Hessinger said the state may be required to reimburse the federal government $2 million for grants that were used to upgrade sections of the corridor. Thus, the final cost could be as much as $21.2 million.
Jim McCulley, who sits on ARTA’s board, accused DOT of inflating the cost of the trail because the department favors the train. “I think DOT is obviously attempting to keep the railroad for unknown reasons. … They’re obviously attempting to deceive,” said McCulley, who also is president of the Lake Placid Snowmobile Association.
At the Old Forge meeting, Hessinger said he was “confident of the numbers we put forward,” but he said DOT would look at the estimates of Iron Horse and others.
DOT spokesman Beau Duffy said today that “there is no truth” to the accusation that the department is cooking the numbers in favor of the railroad.
Adirondack Scenic Railroad operates tourist trains on the line near Old Forge and Lake Placid. It wants the state to rehabilitate the tracks between these two areas. DOT estimates this would cost $20.8 million.
ARTA contends that replacing the tracks between Big Moose (which is near Old Forge) and Lake Placid would create a world-class recreational trail that would benefit the regional economy. Under ARTA’s proposal, the railroad could continue to operate its Old Forge train, which has proven more popular than its Lake Placid train.
DOT and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have staked out a middle ground, proposing to replace the tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake with a recreational trail and rehabilitate the tracks south of Tupper Lake.
Two more meetings on the proposal will be held next week: at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, from 6-8 p.m. November 6, and at the Olympic Regional Development Authority office in Lake Placid, from 1-3 p.m. November 7. Public comments also can be emailed through December 15 to [email protected].