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Stick to facts or expert opinion in debate

November 3, 2011
By Lee Keet , Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates

Danny Ryan appropriately says that the tone of the rail-versus-trail debate is wrong. If I or we have contributed to that, I apologize.

We at the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates have consistently said that the goal for all of us should be to find a solution to the use of the rail corridor that benefits our citizens and businesses most - everything else is irrelevant. The economic-impact study by Camoin Associates concluded as follows:

(1) Either the multi-use recreational trail or an extended tourist railroad would be better than the status quo.

(2) A dual system of rail-with-trail would be impractical and excessively costly if not impossible.

(3) A recreational trail was the clear winner in terms of jobs and economic benefits.

We are trying to keep focused on the facts. Phil Gallos keeps accusing us of fudging the facts and now (Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Oct. 20) says that somehow we have a secret agenda to eliminate the train corridor and end snowmobiling there. Dan Ward (ADE, Oct. 22) expands on this myth, claiming that "private landowners will gain control of these tracks." Others have pointed out that the Adirondack rail corridor is on the National Historic Register (true) and we cannot, therefore, change it (false).

Rather than more he-said/she-said, let me simply quote what our pro-bono legal advisor, Bob Kafin, has to say about these questions. (Kafin has worked on Adirondack Park Agency, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Transportation and other state agency issues for decades, and has been chief operating counsel and general partner at Proskauer Rose, one of New York's most respected law firms.)

"The proposal to convert the rail right of way into a multi-use recreational trail and to remove the rails and ties to improve its usability has generated a lot of misinformation both about the corridor's status as public land within the Adirondack Park and its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

"First, as to its public ownership: the entire right of way is State land. Because it is in the Adirondack Park, it is governed by the State Land Master Plan under the Adirondack Park Agency Act. Under that Plan, the right of way has been put in a land classification called "Travel Corridors" - along with roads and some other linear strips of State owned land. And, because it has its own distinct characteristics, it has its own Unit Management Plan (UMP) - as do other State land units within the Park.

"There is no basis for the argument that taking out the rails and ties would violate the State Land Master Plan and cause the right of way to lose its classification as a "Travel Corridor" or cause portions of the right of way to be absorbed into adjacent Forest Preserve Units and have to be governed by their UMPs. That's baloney. There is absolutely nothing that makes the rails and ties essential to the proper classification of the right of way under the State Land Master Plan.

"The move from trains to multi-use recreation will involve the amending and updating of the UMP (unit management plan) for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, but that's supposed to be done every five years anyhow to address new information and changes in circumstances. Under the State Land Master Plan, UMPs can be changed by the involved State agencies, and the APA Act specifically authorizes amendments to allow for the appropriate management.

"Both the Plan and the UMP for the rail corridor make it abundantly clear that it is the corridor itself - i.e. its continuity and length, its historical significance and its setting - that is the 'unique State land resource.' Not rails and ties. And for that reason, the corridor is supposed to have its own classification and its own UMP. It would be inconsistent with the State Land Master Plan for the corridor's management to become subject to the UMPs for adjacent Forest Preserve Units.

"Second, arguing over whether the rails and ties themselves are part of what is listed on the National Register of Historic Places is a red herring. It doesn't matter.

"Because the entire right of way is listed as a Historic District, any 'project' that involves state agency action within the listed right of way will require going through a process set up by the New York State Historic Preservation Act of 1980. The listing does not prohibit the removal of the rails and tracks, nor does it prohibit turning the right of way from one used by trains to one used by bikes, snowmobiles and pedestrians.

"At the end of the day, the Historic District, and its historic resources, will be better protected and enhanced by an invigorated multi-use recreational trail than by neglect or the continuation of the current poor quality and inadequate use and maintenance of the right of way. And, this means that the State Historic Preservation Office should be very favorably inclined towards its restoration and preservation as an intact travel corridor.

"There can be an intelligent disagreement about what use of the right of way is most in the public interest. But it should be based on facts and an accurate understanding of applicable laws and regulations."

To Danny's point, we can all be civil and work for a common result if we agree on the facts. Claims that are factually incorrect have created much obfuscation on this issue. I ask simply that any responses be based on either substantiated fact or expert opinion.

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Lee Keet lives on Lake Colby in Saranac Lake and is a member of the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates Steering Committee. Other members, all local residents, are Hope Frenette, Joe Mercurio, Tony Goodwin, Jim McCulley and Dick Beamish. ARTA's website is www.TheARTA.org.

 
 

 

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