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North Elba wants the tracks removed between their station in Lake Placid to this point at Union Station in Saranac Lake.  (File photo/Mark Kurtz)
North Elba wants the tracks removed between their station in Lake Placid to this point at Union Station in Saranac Lake. (File photo/Mark Kurtz)

North Elba wants tracks gone, favors multi-use trail

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There's been another development this week in the fierce debate over the historic rail corridor in the Adirondacks.

The town of North Elba, which serves as the northern terminus of the line, called Tuesdsay night for the tracks to be torn up.

The town board also shelved plans to spend $2.6 million on a new trail that would have run parallel to the train tracks.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

Tuesday afternoon in Ray Brook, state officials were urging people to begin a conversation, a long process to decide what to do with the 119-mile rail corridor from Remsen to Lake Placid.

Ray Hessinger heads the DOT’s freight and passenger rail bureau.

"They're asking some very good questions, they're making some very good points," he said.  "We're going to need to spend some time finding answers to some of the questions raised."

But just down the road in the town of North Elba – which includes the village of Lake Placid – local officials were already at the decision phase of their conversation.

"The vote was unanimous," said councilman Bob Miller.

The North Elba town board voted Tuesday night to urge state officials to tear up the railroad tracks to make way for a multi-use recreation trail that would link Lake Placid to Saranac Lake.

Miller wrote the resolution – which is similar to a version approved a year ago.  He says the idea this time was to send state officials a message.

"Our resolution is going to have an influence.  I did time that because the state is holding four public meetings and talking to communities about what they would like to have done."

In passing the resolution, North Elba also canceled plans to spend 2.6 million dollars of grant money on a new trail that would run parallel to the track.

The federal Corps of Engineers had told the town that because of wetland issues, the side-by-side trail would require a full environmental review and additional engineering. 

Miller says the cost and complication of that effort were the final straw. "There is only so much money out there.  Would we like to have both?  Absolutely.  I'm not anti-train.  It's just that after working on it for ten years we came to the conclusion you can't have it all."

At least one councilman who had resisted calling for the tracks to be torn up, Derek Doty, switched his vote this week and supported the resolution.

At least nine local governments along the rail corridor have called for the state to make changes to the management plan for the track – or called for the tracks to simply be torn up.

This week at a meeting in Old Forge, Adirondack Scenic Railroad executive officer Bethan Maher acknowledged that relations with local officials are strained.

"Yeah, absolutely," she said.  Maher attributed concerns to shorcomings in the state's investment in trails and railroad infrastructure.  "Rail restoration was supposed to be complete between Utica and Lake Placid."

 This week’s developments may point to a tension in this process.  The state formally entered this debate only recently, and their deliberations could take months.

But many local residents, officials and activists have been wrangling over the train’s future for years and they’ve made up their minds – pro or con. 

The state’s public meetings on the rail corridor debate resume next week, with a session Monday in Utica and Tuesday at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake.

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