SARANAC LAKE - Village officials say they don't have enough facts to take a stand for or against a proposed multi-use recreational trail between Lake Placid and Old Forge.
Instead, they plan to convene a meeting to find common ground among the proponents and opponents of the controversial Adirondack Recreational Trail.
"I suggest that Saranac Lake volunteer itself to host a stakeholder meeting to gather the facts, talk about the issues and initiate consensus building, which really has been absent so far," Mayor Clyde Rabideau said at Monday night's village board meeting.
Three weeks ago, Lee Keet of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates asked the board to consider passing a resolution supporting the proposed trail. From Saranac Lake to Old Forge, ARTA wants the state to remove the railroad tracks and ties, and put the trail on the railroad bed. From Saranac Lake to the line's end in Lake Placid, plans are under way to put a trail beside the tracks.
Citing figures from a recent Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Study, underwritten by ARTA, Keet said the trail would draw 244,000 out-of-town visitors who would generate $19.8 million a year in spending.
Following Keet's presentation, Rabideau said he supported converting the section from Tupper Lake to Old Forge to a recreational trail, but he raised concerns about removing the railroad tracks between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake. He asked for feedback from Tupper Lake residents.
The mayor said Monday that he's received 22 emails "from people claiming to be Tupper Lakers in support of rails-to-trails to some degree, and some of those 22 wanted both." Rabideau also said he received an email from Historic Saranac Lake in support of preserving the railroad tracks.
But after doing some of his own research, the mayor said he still has a lot of unanswered questions. He said it wasn't a given that the state's railroad could be preserved in a federal rail banking program, as ARTA has suggested. He also had concerns about potential traffic and noise impacts in village neighborhoods from the trail, particularly if motorized vehicles, like ATVs, are allowed. Rabideau also said he needed more information on Forest Preserve implications for the proposed trail and how it would impact the railroad corridor's status on the National Register of Historic Places.
Given that, Rabideau said a resolution from the board in favor or opposed to ARTA's plan "would be of little significance and very premature without all the facts and details at hand."
The mayor suggested the village host a meeting among interested stakeholders. The goal, he said, would be to complete a full analysis of the issue based on the facts and to provide state leaders with a suggested plan for the future use of the railroad corridor.
In the brief discussion that ensued, Trustee Allie Pelletieri agreed that there are questions and concerns that need to be addressed. While Rabideau had raised concerns about potential noise impacts from the trail, Pelletieri cited the noise of the train as an annoyance to some people.
"I know they have to blow their whistle, but I'm telling you, that's very noisy, and it moves very slow, and at intersections it can create traffic problems."
Trustee Tom Catillaz said he doesn't harbor any ill will against the railroad.
"Any time you bring tourists to Saranac Lake, it's a good thing," he said. "I'm in favor of trying to go after both: Keep the railroad, and have a bike path right alongside it. I'd hate to sign my name against either one of these right now."
Trustee Barbara Rice said some of the facts need to be explored more thoroughly. She said she supported the idea of the village hosting a consensus-building meeting.
The board agreed to discuss setting a date for that get together at its next regular meeting.
Trustee Paul Van Cott recused himself from discussion of the proposed recreational trail because of his job as an attorney for the state Adirondack Park Agency. The APA has been involved in permitting the section of the trail between Lake Placid and Ray Brook, and would be involved in the review of any future trail development.