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Stop the malarkey, part 3

May 16, 2012
By Joe Mercurio , Adirondack Recreational Trail Associates

The May 9 Guest Commentary by Pete Gores of the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, entitled "Stop the 'malarkey,' part 2," deserves a rejoinder.

What apparently prompted this submission was a recent, informal poll done by the Lake Placid News, in which 70 percent of the respondents voted to have the tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake removed so a bike path could be installed. Mr. Gores argues that because Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates has a "bigger email contact list," the vote should not count. Really? Because more people have signed up with ARTA, they are somehow to be disenfranchised instead of listened to?

Mr. Gores further contends that the poll results do not consider what is best for the local economy, and that the Camoin study of last year was "at best neutral" on this subject. Let's review several of those "neutral" Camoin findings:

-Extending the 9-mile "scenic railroad" to 34 miles, an increase of 278 percent in length, will only produce a 75 percent increase in ridership. The passengers per mile will drop 37 percent, from 1,555 per annum to 980.

-A recreational trail, even if just to Tupper Lake, will produce 61 percent more in new local spending ($1.2 million) than would extension of train service over the same path.

-A trail will create 54 percent more permanent jobs (20) and 75 percent more temporary jobs (25) than would restoration of the rail service.

He further suggests that ARTA's claims that ARPS' finances are fragile, and that the state is subsidizing ARPS, are false. Jim McCulley's examination of ARPS' tax returns (Feb. 1 Enterprise) and Tony Goodwin's review of the broken agreements that ARPS made with the state (Jan. 30 Enterprise) suggest otherwise. The state Department of Transportation already has spent more than $20 million on the corridor, annually reimburses ARPS for hundreds of thousands of dollars and has budgeted another $45 million over roughly the next decade to make the remainder of the railroad operable, all of this in violation of the original agreement with the state that ARPS would pay its own way. To judge by its tax returns, ARPS itself is functionally insolvent, with liabilities well above assets.

Mr. Gores calls ARTA members to task for not helping to maintain the rail corridor. He apparently fails to appreciate that ARTA's supporters want the corridor between Old Forge and Saranac Lake to be something other than a train track that is used solely to bring the tourist train up from Utica to Lake Placid in the spring and back down to Utica for winter storage in the fall. ARTA recognizes that ARPS has put a lot of work into the corridor in the past 25 years, making it easier to convert the railroad bed to a multi-use recreational path than if ARPS, with the assistance of DOT, had done nothing.

Mr. Gores also is of the view that the snowmobile lease demands contributed labor, even though snowmobiling with the tracks in place is extremely difficult much of the winter and treacherous the rest. In a good year, like 2010-11, the best winter in many years, snowmobilers could only use the corridor for half of their five-month lease due to the presence of the railroad tracks. This past winter the usable time was weeks, not months. If the tracks were removed, Tupper Lake would be immediately connected to the snowmobiling capital of the Adirondacks, Old Forge, with a usable trail much of the winter.

Mr. Gores questions the need for yet another study on top of the Camoin study. Well, for one thing, the Camoin study did not consider the nearly 200,000 annual visitors to the Fish Creek and Rollins Pond campsites, most of whom arrive with bikes and all of whom can be connected to the rail-trail. Second, Camoin did not look at the possible spurs that would connect elsewhere, e.g., from the depot in Tupper Lake into the center of town. Third, Camoin noted that "professional engineering and construction firms would be contracted to carry out all the work according to standard practices" but did not figure in possible savings through local contracting, volunteers or contributed materials. And lastly, Camoin used a composite of other trails to come up with their cost estimates. They had never actually built a trail. In contrast, the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which is conducting the follow-on study, serves as the national voice for more than 150,000 members and supporters with 19,000 miles of rail-trail throughout the country. They think our corridor looks a lot more like others they have worked with than the ones chosen by Camoin - for example, the Downeast Sunrise Trail in Maine, an 84-mile, single-track corridor much like ours. The Sunrise Trail's rails and ties were removed, and the trail was built on the rail bed. The cost of construction was $3.9 million. Rail and salvage value was $6.6 million. The difference of $2.7 million was credited to the state of Maine. In short, salvage covered the entire cost of construction with nearly $3 million to spare. We want to know if this would apply here, hence the more detailed study.

Finally, Mr. Gores wonders why ARTA has not responded "in the last several months" to joining ARPS "in working out solutions that will benefit all groups and the local economy." In response, I point Mr. Gores to Lee Keet's March 23 (Enterprise) Guest Commentary entitled "In the spirit of compromise," which suggested that if the communities want to continue the tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, they should, but the unused tracks between Old Forge and Saranac Lake should be turned back to the people for use as a trail. To my knowledge, ARPS has not responded. Hence, ARTA continues to press our elected officials to make a determination based primarily on what is economically and recreationally best for our communities.


Joe Mercurio is a resident of Saranac Lake and a member of the board of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.



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