The latest version of the plan supports state, federal and private funding for rehabbing the entire railroad, from Remsen all the way to Lake Placid. The plan calls the corridor the "last remaining rail access into the central Adirondacks." The council's draft plan also says accommodations should be made for a multi-use recreational trail.
But the corridor is controversial, and not everyone is pleased that it's included in the strategic plan. Chris Morris reports.
One of the economic council’s “Over-arching Strategies” calls for maintaining railroad infrastructure across the North Country.
In years one through five of the strategic plan, the council supports the development of high-speed rail in the New York-Montreal corridor, rehabiltation of the Remsen-Lake Placid line and upgrades to CSX rail infrastructure between Watertown and Newton Falls.
The council is prioritizing a rail rehabilitation project between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake, and rail supporters were pleased to hear that.
David Tomberlin is vice president of the Tupper Lake Chamber of Commerce and a member of Next Stop Tupper Lake, a group that supports expansion of a tourist train in the Tri-Lakes.
“We think it’s great for the economy in the North Country,” Tomberlin says.
Next Stop Tupper Lake recently launched its “On Track to Saranac” initiative, which aims to raise $350,000 to restore the railway. Tomberlin says momentum is building for a side-by-side rail trail because the state Department of Transportation has no intent to change the corridor’s Unit Management Plan.
“There’s no intent or desire to rip up the rails,” Tomberlin said. “We can have both,” he said. “We have a quote here in Tupper Lake that says, ‘Everyone that says it can’t be done, please get out of the way of those of us who are actually doing it.’”
Lee Keet is a member of the steering committee for the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates. The group wants to tear up the tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake in favor of a multi-use trail.
Keet questions the economic council’s decision to include support for the railroad in the strategic plan. He says members of the council have already shown a bias toward the railroad:
“The facts of the matter are that the rail, whether it has benefit to the local communities or not, which is debatable, has far less benefit to the local communities than a recreation trail, and that’s been documented,” he said, referring to a Camoin Associates study released earlier this year. “I think we’re just going to press ahead and build the factual case because I cannot believe our politicians are actually going to allocate funds to something that has less benefit to the communities that they serve than a better choice.”
Keet says his group will challenge the North Country council’s decision to support the rail corridor:
“We will send an appeal to this REDC asking that if they’re going to make a recommendation that flies in the face of established reports on benefits to the communities, namely in this case the Camoin report, that they take steps to either refute that report or to come up with reasons why they should be choosing the second best alternative.”
Keet says not every idea that comes out of the regional councils will get funded, and he notes Gov. Andrew Cuomo will pick which projects receive state support.
He says the strategic planning process should have been more open to the public.