Sunday, December 30, 2018

Dave Gibson: Rail Trail Controversy Shows Master Plan Has Teeth

Headlined at this month’s meeting of the Adirondack Park Agency was a vote by the APA members to amend the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan (SLMP) to allow Rail Trails to be added to the definition of a Travel Corridor, and to support a rail trail in the SLMP’s Travel Corridor management guidance.

Prior to the APA decision, which like all Master Plan amendments must be ratified by the Governor, rail trails were not defined or authorized under the SLMP’s Travel Corridor overlay classification. Travel Corridors  applied only to the strip of land constituting the roadbed and right of way of state and interstate highways and the Remsen to Lake Placid railroad right of way, as well those state lands immediately adjacent to these facilities.  Such facilities had to be transportation related- not just recreational.

Now, rail trails, with or without the rails, will be added as a potential recreational use within Travel Corridors.  In practical effect, once the Governor signs the amendment the State Land Master Plan will present no further legal obstacle to the State’s desire to remove the rails between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake in favor of the construction of an all-recreational trail on this segment, known as Segment 2. A revised unit management plan for the travel corridor must be drafted, commented upon, revised accordingly and approved before that happens.

In the APA press release this past week, agency leaders were quick to pat themselves on the back. For example, this comment from DEC Commissioner Seggos: “Governor Cuomo understands the power of the Adirondack Park to draw millions of outdoor enthusiasts from around the world to New York to experience its unrivaled natural beauty. The proposed revisions to the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan will allow DEC to improve and enhance these critical travel corridors to accommodate and support increased recreational use that will boost regional economies in a manner that is protective of this precious natural resource. DEC was proud to partner with the Adirondack Park Agency and involved stakeholders on these improvements that strike the delicate balance to responsibly and sustainably promote and protect New York’s magnificent North Country.”

The commissioner’s quote, and that of the APA read as if the DEC and APA struck the “delicate balance” from the outset of this lengthy, controversial process to convert the rails to a trail. APA staff, however, reminded their members that a lawsuit had intervened, brought by Adirondack Railway Preservation Society. That suit resulted, in part, in a Supreme Court decision of September, 2017. Judge Robert Main rejected the DEC’s and DOT’s revised unit management plan and the APA’s SLMP conformance decision which purported to authorize the removal of the rails to create an all-recreational trail from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake. Judge Main’s decision forced the APA to go back and amend the Master Plan, or SLMP, which APA just did this week.

At its core, Judge Main’s decision to reject the State’s actions of 2016 upheld what the Master Plan unequivocally says – that a unit management plan, or UMP, must comply with and cannot amend the Master Plan itself. NYS DEC, DOT and APA had attempted to use the Remsen to Lake Placid Travel Corridor UMP amendment of 2016 to alter the SLMP itself. The judge ruled that attempt improper, arbitrary and capricious.

Here are some relevant excerpts from Judge Main’s 2017 ruling:

“Approval and implementation of the 2016 UMP is an impermissible circumvention of the APA Act. It does not conform with the SLMP or either of the interagency memoranda  quoted above. Segment 2, as intended by respondents, is not a conforming use of the land. The rationalization by respondents  that a multi-recreational use trail is qualified for continuation as a travel corridor is not based in reason.   It defies common sense. The Court rejects this contention as irrational and, hence, arbitrary and capricious.”

Converting Segment 2 to a “recreational trail suitable for … walking, running, biking, cross-country skiing,snowmobiling, and use by … Olympic … athletes constitutes a reclassification beyond the authority of the 2016 UMP. It is an impermissible amendment to the SLMP. It also ignores the express classification concerns raised in the 1996 UMP.

“The  2016 UMP cannot amend the SLMP to create a new classification or to reclassify all or part of units of land. The Court need not, and does not, determine into which of the other classifications such a newly created Segment 2 multi-recreational use trail would fall. The Court simply finds that the change from a railroad to a multi-use recreational trail in Segment 2 removes it from the definition of travel corridor.”

Judge Main’s decision has legal consequences that go beyond the Remsen-Lake Placid Railway. The judge’s ruling confirms that the State Land Master Plan has legal teeth. He opined that the SLMP is not just legal “guidance,” as some in authority have claimed, but rather has the force and effect of law, as every Governor should realize because the SLMP is part of the Executive Law and was placed there by the APA Act enacted by our State Legislature.  A Unit Management Plan, whether for this transportation corridor, or for the High Peaks Wilderness area, or for the Essex Chain of Lakes Primitive area, or for any other unit of State Land cannot amend the Master Plan itself.

If our state agencies had embraced the SLMP as law they are required to follow in this case rather than “guidance” they are free to overlook when expedient, the SLMP could have been amended to allow rail trails on Travel Corridors two  years ago, and a lawsuit and all the costs associated with going to court (on all sides) potentially avoided.  One way to avoid future conflicts like this is for the APA to finally draft and enact regulations for the SLMP.

The final sentence of Appendix I of the State Land Master Plan reads the same today as it read when the SLMP was first signed by Governor Rockefeller in 1972: “The agency and department are hereby authorized to develop rules and regulations necessary, convenient or desirable to effectuate the purposes of this section.” SLMP rules have proven necessary for years. Apparently, they have not proven convenient or desirable by our state agency leaders because they have never been shown the light of day.

In Adirondack Park at a Crossroad – A Road Map for Action (2015), Adirondack Wild wrote: “As we have demonstrated, both the APA and DEC are not adhering to key sections of the SLMP despite the fact that it is has the force and effect of law.  Enforceable regulations should be immediately undertaken by the APA, in consultation with DEC.”

Photo of railroad spur near Newcomb that could become a future travel corridor and rail trail.

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Dave Gibson, who writes about issues of wilderness, wild lands, public policy, and more, has been involved in Adirondack conservation for over 30 years as executive director of the Association for the Protection of the Adirondacks, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks and currently as managing partner with Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve

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 managing partner in the nonprofit organization launched in 2010, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.




71 Responses

  1. LeRoy Hogan says:

    Wondering what the majority of New Yorkers wanted to be done according to the comment period. Amend or not to amend?

    • Boreas says:

      “Wondering what the majority of New Yorkers wanted to be done according to the comment period.”

      I assume you mean ‘respondents’ and not “New Yorkers”. It WOULD be interesting to know. One needs to keep in mind, out of 20 million New Yorkers, the majority likely did not respond, let alone know about the comment period, or even know what a comment period is. I would assume many if not most New Yorkers are oblivious to these topics.

      • LeRoy Hogan says:

        You are assuming wrong since I do mean that I want to know what the New Yorkers want to be done.

        You’re above speculation is nice and dandy but I still wonder of the facts as I originally posted.

        • Boreas says:

          Well, again, until/unless all New Yorkers are knowledgeable of the facts, it would be impossible to ascertain their wishes, don’t you agree? It would be interesting to know, as I mentioned.

        • Avon says:

          It seems to me that NO one can know what NYers (as opposed to all respondents) think, since, as far as I can tell, no one can really be sure which respondents actually live where.

  2. Chris says:

    Is the simple recap of this article that the APA ans DEC overreached and acted illegally?

    • Boreas says:

      Chris,

      Nothing really new there. What would have been more interesting is to see how this would have played out if the ASR hadn’t filed a suit. I would think that if APA/DEC were getting a lot of legal flak when they were developing the plan that they may have taken the more meandering path they have been forced to take by the Judge’s decision on the lawsuit. I don’t recall many other groups or individuals intensely fighting the plan when it was released. Would the tracks have been torn up without protest? Would they have been torn up but the trail been blocked? Would the entire plan have gone through as written? Would someone else have filed suit prior to rail removal?

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    First of all, remember that this amendment to the SLMP only provides some “flexibility” in how the State chooses to use and manage any rail corridors now or hereafter owned by the State. The amendment does not in any way require the removal of tracks from any rail corridor. That decision comes in the new UMP that is expected to be issued for comments next month.

    Also recognize that the original 1996 UMP for the rail corridor clearly stated that what has finally been done should have been done before the 2016 UMP was advanced.

    From the 1996 UMP, page 53: “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.”

  4. Scott says:

    It seems that folks are way to greedy and want hard work done for them, ie there are thousands of miles of trails in existence in the ADK Park, most in favor of this type of thing did not do heavy lifiting in maintaining the rail right of way and more often than not are suburban folk that have over built their own areas and want to dictate how others exist

  5. David Gibson says:

    I point out again that Travel Corridor is a corridor overlay onto the basic state land classiciation throughout which the corridor passes. In this case, the railroad passes through a number of sensitive state lands classified Wild Forest to Wilderness. So, ripping up the rails to create an all-recreational corridor, including snowmobile trails angling off from the rail line in both directions impacts the Wild Forest and Wilderness in a number of significant ways. It should not have taken a Judge to require the State to amend the master plan for such a major change in use. State officials should have undertaken it without hesitation. Tony’s point that the original unit management plan (1996) for the corridor called for amendment of the master plan if rail options failed to materialize. State officials had absolutely no excuse for trying to bypass the master plan in 2016.

    • ben says:

      Snowmobile trails ALREADY shoot off from the corridor. Trails shoot off from the corridor in Forestport, in White Lake, in Otter Lake, in Old Forge, in Big Moose, in Beaver River, in Lake Clear, in Tupper Lake, in Saranac Lake & on into Lake Placid.

    • James Connolly says:

      Reclassification was the proper and legal avenue which now the State has been able to get around which will continue to allow motorized use within a non-rail corridor in perpetuity. That is not a fix, it is an avoidance.

  6. Avon says:

    I’m always grateful for Dave Gibson’s news and reports, but I couldn’t tell from this particular article what he concludes about what can and/or will happen next.

    Does or doesn’t Judge Main’s ruling let the DEC and DOT re-issue the very same UMP that he overturned, now that the APA has amended the SLMP, presumably in order to clear the way?

    Dave doesn’t say if the amended SLMP was amended enough to clear the way that much. Even if it was, can we assume the DEC and DOT can now legally re-do what the court already told them they couldn’t do?

    Perhaps the article gives enough specifics about what affects what else, and how, but I can’t process them all into a conclusion. I’m a practicing lawyer in NYS, but I still don’t have or understand enough information about the applicable agency procedures. I’d like to hear what outcomes experts like Dave and the DEC believe can and can’t, and probably will, happen now.

    • Boreas says:

      Avon,

      Don’t forget, the judge put up two other hurdles in addition to the ROW – namely historical issues and allegedly some easement issues with some landowners. I assume each will eventually be litigated separately.

  7. David Gibson says:

    Boreas is right about remaining (but not SLMP related) hurdles. The judge also ruled that NYS acted improperly in 2016 because two short parts of the railroad corridor were never owned in fee by NYS. NYS had only railroad related easements. Once the tracks are removed, those easements terminate and NYS must negotiate with the owners to allow NYS to create an all recreational trail across those short segments.. The next Unit Management Plan must deal with that ownership issue and, in our opinion, also with snowmobile community connector routes spidering off the former rail corridor which did not, again in Adirondack Wild’s opinion, comply with the required environmental impact assessment requirements. The next UMP for the corridor must be watched carefully.

  8. JAMES CONNOLLY says:

    The only problem, and it is a major one, is that simply by removing rails, NYSDEC can now ensure that a snowmobile trail will always exist along the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor even through wilderness areas without any future reclassification or change to the State Land Master Plan.

    • Hope says:

      It’s a valuable connector trail. It connects the Southwest Adirondacks to the Northeast and the spur trails off of it connect a lot of the small hamlets and communities all around the Adirondacks. Even if the rails stay forever the corridor will be a Snowmobile Trail. Nothing wrong with that. When there is no snow then there will be no snowmobiles but there can be bikes.
      The tracks will be remaining between Big Moose and Tupper for now so will the Snowmobile Trail. It is a class 1 connector that NYSSA would fight tooth and nail to keep regardless of the tracks being there. So really no change.

  9. JAMES CONNOLLY says:

    Another problem from a purely legal perspective is that by allowing removal of the rails under the guise of a Travel Corridor, APA has actually undercut the sole purpose of having a Travel Corridor classification in the State Land Master Plan. The sole purpose is to allow for roads and railroads on State land. The APA decision is neither rational or understandable given the basic definition of what the purpose of a travel corridor actually was supposed to be under SLMP. Now it is just a “glorified” snowmobile trail that they also happen to erroneously call a Travel Corridor. And they do not have to count the snowmobile trail mileage against the “cap” since it is not on Wild Forest. I doubt anyone will mount a legal challenge on it but there is certainly a sound basis for a legal challenge.

    • Boreas says:

      “Now it is just a “glorified” snowmobile trail that they also happen to erroneously call a Travel Corridor.”

      James,

      I am not sure I understand your point. Please explain how a 4-season multi-purpose trail (essentially a light road without cars) would be construed as a “glorified snowmobile trail”. To me, it would be a multi-purpose, 4-season, road/trail that also “allows” some motor vehicle usage (snowmobiles) only in winter. If indeed “The sole purpose is to allow for roads and railroads on State land.”, I would say it is accomplishing its purpose.

      The physical corridor exists with rails on it – most of them in disrepair and currently unused. All this decision does is allows for additional usages of this and future corridors. It would allow for segmented use, as the compromise plan would have offered, as well as potential side-by-side usages – feasible or not. I am not sure how it addresses “rail bikes” (not sure what they are called) that would use the rails exclusively, as this would be a solely recreational use. But I agree that legal challenges will likely drag out this process for years, with the rails likely deteriorating in the meantime.

    • Boreas says:

      “Now it is just a “glorified” snowmobile trail that they also happen to erroneously call a Travel Corridor.”

      Or do you mean this is the CURRENT state of the corridor as it currently sees more snowmobile usage than rail transportation? Just trying to clarify your statement.

      • Jim Connolly says:

        Both . . . the tri-Lakes travel corridor would have been a perfect model for light rail as has been done in Canada and many locations in Europe. The fact that New York refuses to invest in rail transportation is both short-sighted and environmentally unsound. There were also two useful tourism-related businesses already on the rails in Saranac Lake. The casual dismissal of those two successful businesses simply demonstrates how local government (as well as the state) are ignoring economic reality and is unbelievably shortsighted and misplaced. The other bizarre fact is that there are existing former rail corridors through Bloomingdale Bog which are existing trails which serve the same recreational purpose. Basically removing the rails from the Remsen-Placid corridor duplicates something already in existence and eliminates rail and Rail Explorer recreation which are unique to the area.

        • Boreas says:

          Have you ever seen the Bloomingdale Bog trail? Suggesting it serves the same purpose as the proposed multi-purpose trail is ludicrous. It is a nice trail for walking, mountain biking, skiing, and snowmobiling, but the surface is sand, soil, and mud – not compatible with even hybrid bikes. AND, it doesn’t connect anything.

          There is no plan to remove the rails from Remson to LP as you state. Only the 34 miles from TL to LP. ALL types of rail activity would have been available with the compromise plan between Utica and TL, including rail bikes. If the compromise plan ultimately fails, there is no guarantee of ANY rail services between Remson and LP.

          • Jim Connolly says:

            Use it all the time. I disagree with your characterization. It is a primary snowmobile connector trail (Route C7) to Canada (which I think is a pretty significant destination) and one of the main ways Canadians get to the Tri-Lakes area or Tri-Lakers can go to Canada either via C8 to Champlain or C7 to Fort Covington (see https://webapps2.cgis-solutions.com/nysnowmobile/). As a major corridor trail, it provides major connections to other snowmobile trails. It is basically the best that we have in New York other than roads in the Moose River Plains WF & Tug Hill. In some sections it could be better maintained but that is why we have a snowmobile trail maintenance program funded via snowmobile registration fees. Not sure what you mean by hybrid bikes. I have started to use an electric bike on the Bloomingdale Bog trail due to my age and it is perfectly suitable for any and all types of biking. On a final note, I agree that there is no guarantee of any rail service between Remsen & Lake Placid. The rail folks would like to keep open the possibility as they see a market for rail from downstate for older people and urban millennials who do not own cars – interesting as I grew up in a family of five down in NYC in which I was the first to have a driver’s license circa 1970. Given the poor state of rail throughout the U.S., it is a nice goal but likely not practical – it is great to have some vision about such things since they are generally incredibly lacking in the U.S!! If the Remsen-Lake Placid rail has any future, in my opinion, it would be light rail and local service in the Tri-Lakes and the now abandoned tourist train. It is a shame we lack vision in this area because it is being done in Canada & Europe.

            • Boreas says:

              Jim,

              A hybrid bike is something between a mountain bike and a strict road bike. A crushed stone/stone dust surface simply allows for more types of usage, including motorized and manual wheelchairs, than the BB trail offers.

              But the main issue is that BB is a nice, fairly wild, easy to negotiate trail that essentially connects three roads with currently no real “destination” as a start/stop point. So you could blacktop it and it still wouldn’t get much more 3-season use than it does now. Only the winter snowmobile network gives it actual destinations.

              “If the Remsen-Lake Placid rail has any future, in my opinion, it would be light rail and local service in the Tri-Lakes and the now abandoned tourist train.”

              Yes – and it all boils down to ridership numbers. These are 3 small towns/villages with virtually no population in between. This isn’t the same scenario as more densely populated Europe. Europe also has much more expensive fuel for autos, narrowing the cost gap for users. History shows the local usage alone here wasn’t enough to continue passenger rail, which ended decades ago. Rails, as in air, requires butts in seats, since cars will remain an easy, cheap, and convenient alternative in the foreseeable future. As you say, transportation around the country doesn’t look far down the road. But I don’t think progressive thought will start in the ADK Park.

              • Jim Connolly says:

                I generally agree . . . still BB great for a hybrid since the trail is not “perfect” and am not sure there is any reason that it could not be used as a longer distance trail in non-winter. I tend to think “destination” is in the eye of the beholder although once out of the Park to either the north or the south then it is a totally different experience. I definitely could be wrong on this but I just do not see anyone using the Remsen-Lake Placid for long distance hikes or biking and more a snowmobile trail which it already is. Snowmobilers just want it wider and faster which will detract from other winter use. Regarding communing and light rail, remember that previously the commuter rail was Utica to Lake Place. Light rail is a different sort of animal. The Tri-Lakes is perfect for it because so many people in TL & SL work in Ray Brook or LP so it is basically a 4-stop line, or five stop if they wanted to stop in Lake Clear to pick me up!! That said, will people give up their cars to commute? Not in the U.S., I suppose but they would be saving money on gas, vehicle wear and tear and avoiding snowy roads in winter. Not that there has been any logic to the loss of rails throughout the country!!

  10. Marty says:

    Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah all you guys do is go on and on about an issue that has been talked about for way to long. Tracks or no tracks who cares! This is another political issue that no one will be happy with so bite the bullet flip a coin and do something and quit talking. If taking them out causes a problem then solve it and move on there are more important issues to spend time on. I think we put a man in space in less time than has been spent on this for God’s sake quit.

    • Boreas says:

      Marty,

      If you aren’t interested in a topic, don’t click on “Comments”.

      • Marty says:

        Perhaps I was rude but my point is the rail preservation group has their point of view and the tear out the rails group has theirs and they are never ever going to agree. pick a solution and accept that some people will be upset and move forward. This issue has been talked to death. I don’t care if there are rails or no rails but the simple fact is rail service has been dead in the Adks for decades and it’s not coming back and if for some reason it returned decades from know it would require all new tracks anyway. As for the scenic railway idea I’ve rode both trains the one in Thendara and the one in Lake Placid and they’re not that scenic certainly not enough to ever ride them again. I get that people nostalgia for the past maybe some one wants to revive stage lines but trains are hugely expensive and my taxes should not subsidize a for profit enterprise. Leave the tracks there and hike or bike or snowmobile over or next to them or rip them out but end this never ending debate.

        • adkDreamer says:

          Marty – your comment was more than likely the most appropriate in this forum. Entering comments about the substance of an article here or addressing someone’s else’s comments is a fools errand. This site, its articles and opinions are nothing more than a social media site. You will find the same individuals commenting on nearly every article, spewing bits and pieces of nothingness ad naseum. The same commenters acting as un-appointed proxies for the author and attempting to impersonate the moderator. These same commenters write less about the article and more about the comments and in many cases attempt to write op ed articles in the comments themselves. They have nothing better to do and they live here, they hijack the conversation, they don’t think before they write and comment via emotion. When pressed for supporting evidence they continue to spew. Waste of time. No one really cares about your comments. No one cares about mine either. Think about it.

        • James Falcsik says:

          Marty… Your taxes are not subsidizing a for profit enterprise. ASR/ARPS is a non profit 501(c)3 entity. They are an educational charity focused on railroad heritage tourism to the benefit of NYS.

          • Tony Goodwin says:

            James Falcksik – ASR/ARPS is indeed a non-profit, but a review of their tax filings and the reality of the current condition of the Corridor seems to indicate that the taxpayer funds they receive are indeed a “subsidy” for their general operations.

            For many years, their tax filings have shown that ASR/ARPS has received $250,000 – $300,000 from DOT for “corridor maintenance”. However, in 2015 DOT had to hire contractors and spend over $1 million to fix the Corridor so that equipment could be moved to Saranac Lake to begin the tourist train season. More recently, washouts north of Big Moose has required DOT to engage emergency contractors to repair washouts that would have prevented any snowmobiling on the Corridor this winter. The snowmobilers were aware of these washouts as they were developing due to blocked drainage, but the snowmobilers were blocked from dealing with the problems during the summer because DOT said onlyASR could perform corridor maintenance during that time.

            Finally, these additional expenditures by DOT for corridor maintenance call into serious question how the payments to ASR/ARPS are actually being used. FOILed documents indicate that DOT payments went for about 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel – clearly more than any “corridor maintenance” equipment would need.

            As said my “Almanack” article last fall, the ASR’s operations are just not sustainable no matter how hard the volunteers work or how heartfelt is the nostalgia for the days when railroads were the only way to travel.

            • James Falcsik says:

              Tony; Happy New Year to begin with.

              With all of the FOIL’ed documents, have you or Mr. McCulley ever come across the ASR contract with NYSDOT to determine the scope of their maintenance contract? I am in possession of their permit, which clearly states ASR is to perform “limited maintenance” and I also understand from the same permit that NYSDOT requires the ASR to cooperate with any other contractors that NYS may employ in the corridor in order to perform work that is beyond the ASR level of expertise or ability. I am not familiar with the scope of work and repairs you mention, but from the permit language these maintenance events involving other contractors do not seem unusual or scandalous as you would imply.

              In discussions I have had with ASR directors they have clearly stated they do not perform any maintenance work on the railroad that is not first authorized and planned by the Corridor Manager in Utica; have you taken up any complaint you may have with NYSDOT?

              As to the accounting of the expenditures, I am on the outside looking in, as are you, and without the context of the charges and the maintenance contract scope, it is easy to assume the worst of any charge. Did a NYSDOT manager or authorized employee sign off on the invoice? Do you think ASR would not be careful with expenses and documentation knowing fully that all their business records with NYS are subject to open records laws? Especially since your efforts targeting ASR/ARPS very much appear to want to put them out of business?

              In a TRAINS magazine article from May of 2005 entitled “Adirondack Mission” author Karl Zimmerman headlined the article with this statement: “Volunteers with big goals and little money built a broken-down New York State railroad into a busy tourist carrier. Much work remains, but they are not stopping now.” Nothing has really changed, except through this rail trail debate, you and others are doing your best to waste all the goodwill and work they have done in a most disrespectful manner.

              • James Falcsik says:

                I am just curious Tony; since you call into question the ASR fuel usage charges to NYS, how many gallons of diesel fuel do you think ASR should be using for maintenance activities?

                When I look up the fuel consumption of a single EMD GP9, a 1950’s vintage locomotive, I see the fuel consumption at idle is 3.5 gallons per hour. You know diesel locomotives do not use antifreeze, but instead they use water as an engine block coolant; they idle all night to keep from freezing. So in a single week the idle usage alone is almost 600 gallons in normal ambient temperatures. How cold does it get up in the North Country at night? In extreme cold the engines frequently idle in Notch 3 which uses more fuel.

                So without really knowing what equipment is used and the frequency of use, It may not be a good idea to call a whole lot of people liars before you get all the facts.

                • Tony Goodwin says:

                  James Falcsik – First of all, the ASR does not do any maintenance during the winter, that maintenance is done by the snowmobilers. So, no need to keep diesel engines running 24/7 to prevent a freeze-up.

                  Secondly, we believe that there is now an ongoing audit of how the has spent the $300,000/year on corridor maintenance. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how that comes out.

            • Jim Connolly says:

              Just curious as to who will take care of washouts and bridge repair in the future?? Assuming it will by NY State so no difference from what it is now.

  11. James Connolly says:

    Speaking of Blah, blah, blah, there has always been a viable and less expensive alternative available ignored by both local government and NYSDEC. A trail along the rail corridor was approved by APA which have provided a bike route in addition to the existing snowmobile trail from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake. Because it was ignored, a much more expensive alternative involving removal of the rails was chosen which the tax payers will have to pay for. Note that I have no skin in this game but am very familiar with all the issues and complete incompetency on the part of State and local government is not something which should be applauded.

    • Boreas says:

      James,

      The taxpayers will be paying for whatever happens to the corridor, including rail maintenance if they choose to allow RR usage again. I have heard nothing about RR carriers offering to pick up the entire tab to rehabilitate the existing rail bed and maintain any future rail bed.

      The state hasn’t ignored a side-by-side trail, it ruled it out long ago as too expensive and an environmental bag of worms because of wetlands along the route. The sections through wetlands are narrow and safety would require widening or bridging which is where much of the expense would lie. So I am not sure where you got the impression removing and salvaging the rails on the northern segment would be more expensive.

      • James Falcsik says:

        Most other examples of government-owned railroads do not expect the private carriers to bear the full cost of rehabilitation and maintenance. Actually, neither do airlines with airports or trucking companies with interstates.

        The biggest mistake by NYS was to put forth the concept that private enterprise would foot the bill for rail corridor development while the state maintained ownership of the line. Examples of successful government/private partnerships for rail service are numerous and in most cases the government agency or authority owns the line and the private operator provides the service.

        • Steve Bailey says:

          Freight rail has traditionally been privately owned as was the Remsen-LP rail. Thus it’s always been the responsibility of the private companies to maintain the infrastructure. NY State acquired the RLP right-of-way in ’74, but generally is not going to pay to maintain the railbed unless a valid freight or passenger company is going to operate on that ROW. Even then, NY State has indicated thru it’s inaction that it is not going to maintain RLP as a valid and functioning railroad.

          • James Falcsik says:

            @ Steve..What is a valid freight or passenger operation without a valid railroad plant? No private operator of either venue is going to invest in or pay to maintain the right of way it does not own. NYS bought the line; if they want a valid operator to run trains, whether ASR or someone else, they need to pony up and build a railroad.

            The few remaining Class 1 mega rail companies that exist are mostly interested in the long haul unit trains, not branch lines. Many short line companies have found opportunity on these branch lines by servicing customers without the overhead that comes with transportation unions and inflexible work rules.

            Part of that equation is the business development agencies, found at both state and local municipalities, want to preserve rail service to communities to support private commercial enterprise. They typically purchase the railroad assets and hire a private railroad operator. The quazi-government agency generally owns and improves the railroad plant and the operators share in the maintenance and pay usage fees to the agency; these are generally token fees that are not designed to harm the operating railroad. The municipalities benefit from the improved tax base the commercial enterprises create; that is where the real benefit to the communities are. Marketing efforts are usually shared by the partnership. It works in many areas and the template for success is no secret. In the Adirondacks the commercial enterprise is tourism, and the scenic railroad can contribute to this.

            Although It appears NYS purchased the R-LP line, and there have been plenty of politicians that publicly offered words of support, it failed the tourist railroad effort. There are examples of NYS providing funding for track rehab and equipment, but it never provided the complete funding necessary to make any operator a viable railroad enterprise. After decades of disconnected actions, and by recent design from the trail boosters, the line is not whole and will continue to decay..

  12. Tony Goodwin says:

    James Connolly, the “Travel Corridor” classification does still mean something. At the APA’s presentation of the proposed amendment, the presenter made clear that this allowed it to remain a “Travel Corridor” even if used for recreation for, let’s say, 50 years before there was again a legitimate reason to restore rail service. Absent this amendment, those years without rails would have resulted in sections of the Corridor becoming Forest Preserve, and this status would have made rail restoration much more difficult. Because of its unusual history of ownership and control, this corridor does not otherwise qualify for “rail banking”, but this amendment accomplishes the same goal.

    i doubt either of us will live long enough to actually see this corridor return to rail use, but the best planning provides as many options as possible for future generations.

  13. Larry Roth says:

    Whether or not you agree that the Master Plan laws have teeth, it’s clear state historic preservation laws do not.

    People keep overlooking that part of the decision references how the state was essentially ignoring its responsibilities to observe those laws – which is kind of a big deal since the rail corridor comes under both state and national historic preservation regulations because of its status which considers the character of the entire corridor.

    If I recall correctly, at one point the state was claiming they couldn’t address the historic requirements with a plan until they finished the plan to demolish the corridor, which is exactly backwards from how it is supposed to work. And we already know the primary historic concern from trail advocates appers to be making sure a few token signs and kiosks don’t get in the way of their bikes and snowmobiles.

    And let’s not even discuss how the state is still claiming there are no easement issues when it was clear they ignored them coming up with the 2016 plan, and do not seem to have conceded anything since.

    There’s a great deal more to this than is being brought out here, and perhaps a follow up article is in order.

    • Boreas says:

      “There’s a great deal more to this than is being brought out here, and perhaps a follow up article is in order.”

      I agree Larry. The main stakeholder we never hear from is the Cuomo administration, as they are playing their cards close to the vest. Therefore, anyone with any interest in this issue is forced to infer their long-term goal by their most recent actions. Why not a public statement of what they NOW intend to do with the corridor since the court decision? Has it changed? Reconsidering side-by-side? Letting it revert to nature? Who knows??

  14. James Connolly says:

    The State already considers the corridor Forest Preserve or there would be no need to either classify it or do a Unit Management Plan. The State does recognize that lands along the corridor might revert to private ownership but it is clear that will likely be challenged in court. If that occurs successfully, everyone can just wave goodbye to the concept of public recreational use along the corridor unless either the State uses eminent domain or purchases the properties in fee title. I believe the State contends that they already went through an eminent domain procedure in the 1980’s for the entire corridor except perhaps the two parcels in Saranac Lake which were left with NCCC and either the town or county (cannot remember). If so, no evidence of the previous eminent domain process has yet been provided to the courts so it is one of those significant issues yet to be adjudicated. It is an interesting feat of legal manipulation to determine it is a “Travel Corridor” without rails – the position defies logic (at least as I know it) as it would be saying a road is a highway without vehicles although DEC & the courts have somehow determined exactly that for Old Mountain Road!!! It will be interesting to see if the first person who tries using the trail with a ATV is given a ticket. I tend to doubt it will hold up in court but not sure as technically a “road” needs to be designated for ATV use by the Town. Bottom line, is that it is up to North Elba and Keene to enforce any non-motorized use restriction as they have jurisdiction. The court ruling is dumb as it gets because it basically boils down to that a road is a road if it once was used by vehicles (even horses and carriages for that matter) under the jurisdiction of towns even if not maintained for such use. Such a legal mind-set could play havoc with old town roads on the Forest Preserve. But I digress as this has nothing to do with Travel Corridors!!! Getting back to the original question, the State has been so sloppy about the whole process that, if they desire and can afford it, the rail folks can keep this in court for quite a while.

    • Boreas says:

      “…if they desire and can afford it, the rail folks can keep this in court for quite a while.”

      James, this is certainly true! Environmental groups, snowmobile groups, and local communities are other stakeholders that could conceivably prolong the issue through the courts. However, in my opinion, the longer the corridor lies idle and falling into disrepair, the less likely it will ever see railroad traffic again past Old Forge.

      • James Connolly says:

        I agree completely!! But the main reason the trails lie idle is the lack of vision of the State and local officials who could have had both a rail and a trail and rejected it.

        • Boreas says:

          James,

          Was it lack of vision, or was it lack of support and funds? The compromise plan allowed for both rail and trail, just not in the same sections. And it allowed for TL to become the hub where both would meet – presumably boosting that local economy deep in the Park. It was a different vision that many of us shared. No one knows what the final result will be after all of the lawsuits are settled. Perhaps just trees growing up through rails as the forest reclaims the corridor. Nature presses on while humans play their games.

          • Jim Connolly says:

            In my view, the lack of vision involved a failure to accommodate recreational use and the rail line in a combined multi-recreational & tourism approach. Old rail lines with operating trains are unique, popular and an economic stimulant. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_heritage_railroads_in_the_United_States

            The State poured a lot of planning money through the Adirondack North Country Association to develop a side-by-side trail for bikers and snowmobilers linking Placid and Saranac Lake. It would have served as a useful model to see if it worked successfully (and I have not doubt that it would have) and then could have been expanded with multiple tie-ins to other trail systems (hiking/biking/snowmobile) along the corridor. However, it was abandoned since the Town of North Elba was the leas agency and decided not to pursue it even after the APA issued permits. Also the concept of light rail is not something for the future but for right now . . . other than the fact that in the United States they are limited to urban areas for the most part. Here is a list of light rail lines (aka trams) throughout Europe:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trams_in_Europe

  15. Paul says:

    Vroom! Vroom!

    Snowmobiles cranking across places like the Whitney Wilderness.

    The governor is happy to sign this one.

    • Hope says:

      They already do. Keeping the rails or removing them, doesn’t matter except for the quality of the trail and the ride. Lets promote winter tourism and activities to the actual benefit of the small communities who do not have ORDA facilities in their backyards. Lets encourage the folks who relish the winter beauty of the Adirondacks to come here when most won’t. I don’t even snowmobile but I see the difference this activity makes to the many small hamlets around the park. Bring on the winter recreationalists, all of them, we need them to come.

      • James Connolly says:

        Just a reminder that a rail line does not preclude extensive winter recreation in the Adirondacks and even supplements it during low-snow years. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad runs an immensely popular Polar Express every year. The SL/LP could as well but it seems that boat has already sailed as no operation permits have been issued by DOT for that section of the line. A rail excursion line is also extremely popular with older folks (I will be turning 70 next year) as well as people who are unable to ski or snowmobile and families with young children.

        • ben says:

          If it’s so popular why does the ASR continue to have a problem paying the licensing fee on time.

          • Steve Bailey says:

            This

            ASR is not a viable enterprise, as much as every rail fan wants to think.

            One option would be to maintain the rail line for scenic rail excursions as far as where the current RLP line enters the Pigeon Lake Wilderness, and/or the Five Ponds and Whitney Wilderness. Then abandon the ROW from that point to Tupper Lake, than convert the ROW from Tupper. That would eliminate motorized travel adjacent to and thru a wilderness area as well as provide for an all season recreational trail from Tupper to SL and LP.

            I would question if any motorized vehicles, snowmobiles or otherwise, are currently allowed on the RLP ROW.

            • Hope says:

              The RLP corridor is a Class A Snowmobile Trail and has been for 40+ years. There are snowmobiles traveling from Old Forge to Tupper whenever the snow is sufficient to groom. Groomers also groom from Big Moose to Beaver River and thru Whitney, Brandeth, Lake Lila, Sabattis, Lows, Horseshoe, Piercefield, Tupper, Lake Clear, Harrietstown, Saranac Lake, Raybrook and Lake Placid.

              • Jim Connolly says:

                Not sure if we have enough snow in Saranac Lake area these days for clubs to use a large groomer. I have ridden groomers on C7 from Lake Clear to Onchiota but never seen them on the Remsen-LP corridor although I think they used to use them closer to Lake Placid. I was optimistic we were going to have a great winter for snow this year but it sure has gone to hell in a handbasket. 40 plus degrees with rain on New Years Eve – what the heck???

                • Hope says:

                  Lake Placid Snowmobile Club grooms C7 from Lake Placid to Charlie’s Inn when feasible but I believe the damage to the causeway in Saranac Lake has made that section ungroomable at the moment.

          • Jim Connolly says:

            Don’t know anything about it. They seem to have enough money for lawsuits!

      • Paul says:

        Some do when there is enough snow. But it is obviosuly going to make it so that more snowmobiles can utilize this “trail”. I din’t say it was a bad thing. Just noting that there will be increased snowmobile use in these areas. These will be a very wide very flat very good trail for driving fast which is can be pretty noisy. Have you ever been out near the Lake Clear airport where snowmobiles utilize the old rail bed out there. I have rabbit hunted out there, sometimes it is so loud you can’t hear beagles running the rabbits. That is not exactly wilderness solitude.

        • Jim Connolly says:

          Hi speed snowmobile traffic will absolutely kill cross-country skiing along the corridor which us currently very popular. It really is a shame as it is clear that the only thing the snowmobiles want is a high-speed race course.

        • Jim Connolly says:

          I live about 1/2 mile from Charlie’s Inn. When we get good snow you can hear the snowmobiles late into the night. Have no idea what they are doing but it sounds like a race track. The snowmobiles also go very fast anyplace they can manage it. Along a wider trail like some of the old railroad beds, anybody else walking, snowshoeing or skiing would be unsafe. I know people who live near such trails that essentially make them unusable for others and the noise is enough to drive people crazy.

        • Boreas says:

          I am certainly no fan of snowmobiles in the backcountry. That being said, I also acknowledge they are an important source of recreation and revenue wherever they are allowed. I am also very willing to share trails with them when skiing, snowshoeing, or walking. People who ski on snowmobile trails aren’t doing it for a backcountry wilderness experience. They are doing it for other reasons. For instance, the trail is usually broken with a good base, making skiing easier. They may prefer skiing side-by-side where conversation is easier. In my case, I like skiing Bloomingdale Bog and other reclaimed or current RR beds because of visibility, not for the quality of skiing. I am usually out birding, and being able to see a long distance in the woods is often desirable. On a normal twisty, backcountry trail visibility is much more limited. Other times I prefer the solitude of a traditional foot or ski trail, or even bushwhacking.

          But I disagree with the assertion that “high-speed snowmobile traffic will absolutely kill cross-country skiing…”. I often see other skiers along these same trails I mentioned – sharing the trail with snowmobiles (perhaps begrudgingly) and other recreationists. I will agree that many skiers will avoid this type of corridor, but certainly not all. Plus, skiers are used to sharing these corridors with snowmobilers – whether tracks are still in place or not. Much “bad behavior” occurs at night when skiers are typically not on these trails. In my experience, most snowmobilers slow down to a safe speed when encountering other sleds and recreationists on the trail. There is no reason, regardless of trail type, that implementation and enforcement of speed limits and trail-sharing etiquette in high usage areas cannot be entertained. As motor vehicles with registration fees there should be sufficient funding to regulate problem areas.

          Unfortunately, enforcement seems to be lacking in many areas in the interior. Perhaps with smart phones and more visible registration numbers (even placed on a helmet), more bad behavior could be reported. Portable unmanned radar cameras powered by solar/batteries could also be implemented. What seems to be missing is the WILL to regulate and enforce snowmobile traffic. Meanwhile snowmobile deaths continue.

          • Jim Connolly says:

            I agree with your observations about snowmobile interaction with cross-country skiers however I feel the conversion of the rails from Tupper to Lake Placid will be a different experience because it will be a much wider trail and more like a road than what currently exists on other abandoned right-of-ways.

            • Boreas says:

              Depending on how wide it is, it could possibly be groomed for both snowmobiles and skiers, which could increase safety and even improve skiing. I do agree that wider trails will likely lead to increased sled speeds, which doesn’t seem to be a good idea in the backcountry.

              • bob says:

                What happens after the inevitable mowing down of a cross country skiier by a snowmobile?

                I think the snowmobile lobby teaming up with the trail lobby is very short sighted. As soon as there is any conflict, the snowmobiles will lose.

                • ben says:

                  show me one article of a snowmobiler running down a cross country skier. There are other trails in this state where snowmobiles, hikers, dog walkers & cross country skiers all co-exist. The Erie Canal trail is one example. I’ve ridden my sled plenty of times up/down that trail passing hikers, dog walkers & skiers & NEVER have run one over.

  16. […] Historic Adirondack RR Controversy Shows Master Plan Has Teeth […]

  17. Charles Burck says:

    I’m all for trails, but not at the price of tearing up rails that have the potential to be useful again in the future.

  18. JohnL says:

    Somebody just shoot me. PLEASE!

  19. Kenneth Fischer says:

    Oh please. Again with the rail trail balogna! I’ve been a riding snowmobiles on those rails for 40 years waiting for something to happen. Forget it. Do like I did. Go to Canada. Go to where you and your money is welcome. No railroad tracks to destroy your equipment or kill or injure your family. I love Old Forge and Beaver River but it’s just not fun. Period. Hastings Highlands, Ontario, here I come

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