SARANAC LAKE - The town of Harrietstown has become the third Tri-Lakes-area municipality to urge the state to revisit its management plan for the railroad corridor between Lake Placid and Remsen, near Utica.
The four-member town board unanimously approved a resolution Thursday to petition the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation to review and update the rail corridor unit management plan, which hasn't been revised since it was completed in 1995. Representatives of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates, a group pushing to remove the tracks and convert the corridor to a multi-use recreational path, encouraged the town board, at its last meeting, to push for revisiting the UMP.
The town's resolution says the hearings required by a UMP update "will provide an on-the-record process of allowing all stakeholders the opportunity to express their respective points of view and for unbiased fact-finding." It also says the process would "negate the need for localitities" like the town and the village to do their own fact-finding.
Thursday's decision came over the protests of railroad supporters, who lobbied the board for the better part of 40 minutes to table the resolution. Steve Erman, president of the Adirondack North Country Association board of directors, asked the town not to take action until it could talk with state officials about the corridor management planning process.
"I think it's very important for the board to pursue informed decision making, and not make decisions based on a single organization, in this case ARTA," Erman said.
Erman also said he was worried that reopening the UMP could derail a recently announced deal between the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society and Iowa Pacific Holdings to develop luxury passenger rail service between Lake Placid and New York City using restored Pullman rail and sleeping cars.
"They're not going to move forward with an investment when there's uncertainty," Erman said, adding that officials in Utica are optimistic about the deal.
Saranac Lake writer and photographer Phil Gallos said revisiting the management plan would open up a "Pandora's box" that could halt any planned development on the corridor for an unknown period of time.
"Once that plan is opened up, everything stops," Gallos said. "Nobody's going to invest in the railway, and nobody's going to invest in the trail, either. That's the concern about opening the plan. It facilitates, to a certain degree, one scenario, which is ARTA's, because the trail that ARTA envisions cannot be built without the plan being opened up."
Local architect and planner Jim Hotaling, who worked on the current corridor UMP, said it is "not really an illuminating process where everything gets resolved.
"I think it might be better to meet with state officials without jumping on the bandwagon of, 'Let's reopen the unit management plan,'" Hotaling said. "Talk to state officials, see if they can meet with all the communities and find out what the process involves."
ARTA President Joe Mercurio countered that opening up the UMP, which is supposed to be reviewed every five years, is long overdue.
"The bottom line is this rail-trail debate has been going on for some time now," he said. "We could be debating one side versus the other until the cows come home, and it's not going to settle anything because ultimately this whole thing has to be settled at the level of DOT, DEC, possibly APA and even the governor's office, with input from the public."
Mercurio also accused the railroad supporters of using "fear" to try and dissuade the town from making a decision.
Councilman Ron Keough said he'd like the town to host a meeting among the stakeholders and communities along the railroad corridor, and invite officials from DOT and DEC to participate so people can get "firm answers from the state" absent the spin from either side. At the same time, Keough and other members of the board said they didn't see any harm in asking the state to revisit the UMP.
"This is the town wanting everyone to come together and decide the best use for (the corridor)," said Councilman and Supervisor-elect Bob Bevilacqua. "That's all we're trying to push for."
"I think proceeding with that and passing the resolution is an intent to get the entire process moving forward and figure out what is best for the town of Harrietstown," said Councilwoman Nichole Meyette.
Keough also said the town wasn't acting on a request from ARTA in asking the state to revisit the UMP. After hearing opinions on both sides of the issue, Keough said he had recommended the board petition the state "to get more factual information in a public forum."
The village of Saranac Lake and the town of Tupper Lake have passed similar resolutions in recent months.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.