The public was told that the state’s Wild, Scenic, and Recreational Rivers Act would prohibit the state from restoring the railroad tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake if they were removed.
In a slide show, the state Department of Environmental Conservation noted that railroad bridges generally are not permitted over rivers classified as Wild or Scenic. It said the railroad crosses three such rivers south of Tupper Lake: the Moose, Bog, and Raquette.
Rob Davies, head of DEC’s Division of Lands and Forests, told the public that the existing bridges over these rivers were grandfathered and thus are allowed, but if the tracks were removed for a rail trail, as some people advocate, the WSRR Act would prohibit replacement of the tracks.
Yet the Adirondack Park Agency land-use map indicates that the Raquette is classified as Recreational, a designation that permits railroad bridges, and the Bog is not classified at all where the railroad crosses it. Also, the railroad doesn’t cross the Moose between Big Moose and Tupper Lake. The Moose is classified as Scenic where the railroad crosses it in the vicinity of McKeever, but no one is advocating removing the rails there.
When Adirondack Almanack asked about the disparity between the APA map and the public presentation, DEC acknowledged that it inadvertently made a mistake and will weigh the correct information when assessing whether to amend the state-owned corridor’s management plan.
The issue came up because Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates has proposed removing the tracks in the eighty-mile stretch between Big Moose and Lake Placid. Adirondack Scenic Railroad wants the tracks to remain and be refurbished. DEC and the state Department of Transportation have offered a compromise: fix up the tracks between Big Moose and Tupper Lake and replace the rails between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid with a recreational trail.
Some people are concerned that the rail line may be needed in the future to transport passengers and freight—especially if the world runs short of oil. In answer, ARTA has asserted that the tracks could be replaced if need be. But Davies told the audience at four public meetings, held in Utica, Old Forge, Tupper Lake, and Lake Placid, that the WSRR Act would not allow the tracks to be restored.
Even if the rivers were classified as Wild or Scenic, it still might be possible to replace the tracks. In an interview with the Almanack after one of the meetings, Davies said the law always could be amended. He also said others interpret the law differently.
DEC says the WSRR Act is no legal bar to replacing the tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid if they are removed. In this part of the corridor, the railroad passes over one protected river, the Saranac, but it is classified as Recreational.
Photo by Phil Brown: Railroad bridge over the Bog River.