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Propaganda in the rail-trail debate

September 16, 2011
By Phil Gallos

Lee Keet, Jim McCulley, Dick Beamish and others have been making some powerful statements in these pages and elsewhere. It's a shame they contain so much misinformation, so many half-truths, exaggerations and outright fabrications. These men have been conducting a relentless campaign to discredit the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and demoralize its employees and volunteers, and to extend that treatment to any organization or individual that advocates for alternative action which might interfere with their drive to dismantle functional railroad infrastructure and replace it with a recreational trail.

The strategy is this: Say whatever you want, no matter how baseless or preposterous, to promote your agenda; and, as long as you say it often enough and vehemently enough, people will believe it and will change their attitudes, positions and actions accordingly. It's the strategy of propaganda. Following are some examples. Most of my responses are based on information from the AdkAction Rail Corridor Study ("Camoin" study), from the state Department of Transportation's management plan, from DOT officials and from ASR's financial officer.

Propaganda: ASR receives endless subsidies.

Reality: ASR receives no subsidies. ASR gets reimbursed by DOT for corridor maintenance and repair work - the percentage of reimbursement varying with the nature of the work and where it was done. This work benefits snowmobilers as well as ASR. Payment for services rendered is not a subsidy. Grants - for which there is fierce competition, so the winners have to be worthy - are not subsidies. Loans are not subsidies.

Propaganda: "The $3.3 million to build (the) rail with trail could be used, in short order, to create a recreational trail to Tupper Lake." (Keet, Sept. 12 Guest Commentary in the Enterprise)

Reality: Lee Keet's own study (Keet, et al, call it the "Camoin study," but it was commissioned by, with which Keet was and is a board member) says a trail to Tupper Lake would cost $17.1 million, even after selling the rails and ties for salvage. There is no "short order" to replacing the rails with a trail. The permitting process alone, with at least six different permits required, could take years. Furthermore, the same study estimates that upgrading the tracks to Tupper Lake to Class III, "which would allow trains to travel at SPEEDS UP TO 60 MPH" (emphasis added), would cost $12.5 million - 27 percent less than the trail.

Propaganda: ASR "is currently costing the taxpayers at least $380,000 per year." (Keet, paraphrased in Aug. 31 Enterprise news article. "Rail trail advocates hammer out plans.")

Reality: According to the AdkAction study, DOT maintenance reimbursements for the entire 119-mile Remsen-Lake Placid corridor averaged $158,000 per year for the last nine years through 2010.

Propaganda: Using a ridership figure of 14,000 between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid, Keet claims that, "according to a study by Camoin Associates, state subsidies for this 9-mile run amounted to over $11 per rider."

Reality: The study doesn't say any such thing. It says nothing about subsidies because the state does not subsidize ASR. It does give a DOT reimbursed maintenance cost of $1,324 per mile. That comes out to 85 cents per rider.

Propaganda: "The ASR has failed to meet any of the criteria that allowed it to be funded in the first place under the management plan." (Keet)

Reality: There are no performance criteria for ASR to meet in the management plan, it has already met the selection criteria, and funding criteria are not specified.

Propaganda: The corridor "should revert to the originally planned recreational trail." (Keet)

Reality: Nothing is said about this in the AdkAction study, and though the management plan discusses replacing the rails with a trail as one of several options, it specifically argues against eliminating the rails and concludes by saying, "Rail uses should be permitted to expand over the full length of the corridor while all compatible recreational trail uses are accommodated and encouraged" (page 149). The trail-with-rail from Lake Placid to Saranac Lake is just such a "compatible" use. Plans for this trail have an 18-year history, now moving forward to implementation.

Propaganda: The trail-with-rail will end in Ray Brook.

Reality: The grant money in hand is allocated to complete the trail-with-rail to Saranac Lake.

Propaganda: A trail from Lake Placid to Ray Brook is a "trail to nowhere." (Keet)

Reality: Since when is Ray Brook nowhere? What about all the employees at the various government offices and facilities there who could use this trail to commute? Not to mention the residents of Ray Brook, or the campers at Meadowbrook (bicycle right from your campsite to Lake Placid and back), or all those diners at Tail O' the Pup (eat your barbecue and work off some of the calories riding the trail). When Phase 2 is implemented and the trail reaches Saranac Lake, will Saranac Lake then be the new "nowhere?"

Propaganda: The ASR "appears to be on its last legs ridership continues to fall." The ASR has had to borrow money. "Why prolong the inevitable?"

Reality: The AdkAction study (completed less than a year ago) shows ridership between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid at 14,000. ASR's financial officer says this year has been very good. Most of the borrowing was reported on the railroad's 2008 tax return and did not occur "over the last two years," as Keet asserts. How many Tri-Lakes businesses have never shown red ink and never taken a loan? Shall we single them all out, threaten them with removal, and say, "Why prolong the inevitable?"

The list of misleading assertions could go on and on. Keet, McCulley and Beamish are men who are used to getting what they pursue. They are very good at staying "on message." You will read and hear the same phrases over and over again, put forth without apparent regard for accuracy. I still believe in a world where, in passionate disagreement, we may make mistakes, but we at least try to be credible.

Interested readers should examine the AdkAction Rail Corridor Study and the DOT and Department of Environmental Conservation's Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor Final Management Plan. Both are available online.


Phil Gallos lives in Saranac Lake.



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