Legal challenge bumping against Adirondack rail trail

By Brian Nearing

Work on conversion of part of an Adirondack rail line into a recreational trail remains on hold as a lawsuit against the project sorts through land ownership and historic preservation issues.

This month, a state Supreme Court judge blocked work on the $8 million project, which would remove rails from 34 miles of the line between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake that has been used by a tourist railroad, which is fighting to keep the line in place.

In its lawsuit filed last fall, the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society, which operates a seasonal tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, raised issues over how the state Department of Environmental Conservation addressed historic preserve and land title issues approving plans to remove rails to make way for a trail for snowmobilers, skiers, hikers and bikers.

The not-for-profit society leases the entire 119-mile rail line, which runs from Utica to Lake Placid. On Feb. 7, Justice Robert Main ordered DEC to submit a report by March 8 to address concerns over title to small portions of the corridor owned by North Country Community College in Saranac Lake, which bought the property decades ago from the state. Another disputed section — the Lake Placid Train Station — lies outside the corridor, but is owned by the Lake Placid/North Elba Historical Society.

Under Main’s order, the tourist railroad has until March 22 to react to whatever information is provided by DEC.

DEC spokesman David Winchell on Monday said the state has letters of intent from the community college, and the Essex and Franklin county governments, which control the historical society, that will allow the state to remove the tracks.

Lee Keet, the treasurer of the Adirondack Rail Trail Advocates, said that original state plans call for work on track removal to begin this spring and be complete by November, so a drawn-out legal challenge could jeopardize that timetable.

Keet said his group will file legal papers in support of the state by March 28 that will seek to dismiss the lawsuit from the tourist railroad. “This lawsuit will slow us down within the next three months if it is not resolved,” he added.

The state’s plan would also spend another $15 million to rehabilitate 45 miles of existing tracks south of Tupper Lake to Big Moose. The railroad company also operates a seasonal tourist train between Big Moose and Utica.

The lawsuit also names the state Transportation Department and Adirondack Park Agency. The historic line from Utica to Lake Placid, which was restored for the 1980 Winter Olympics, had fallen into disrepair, and excursion trains now operate only between Utica and Thendara, and between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

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