As the debate over the rail corridor in the Tri-Lakes continues, one municipality is backing off a plan to construct a recreational path alongside the train tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
The town of North Elba has learned that it cannot consolidate a pair of federal grants in order to complete phase one of the project, which would construct a bike path from Lake Placid to Ray Brook.
The town's plans were popular among local cyclists, but some opponents of the rail corridor wanted officials to wait for the future of the tracks to become clearer.
Speaking Tuesday, Tony Goodwin of Keene told officials from the town of North Elba they should delay plans to use federal funding to construct the bike path.
"Because the grant money will go a whole lot further in terms of producing a real community recreation trail once we get the rails removed," he said. "We really believe that in this climate and with the recent decline of ridership here and other problems, that pressure we're working on putting on the DOT will, at some point in the fairly near future, get the decision that the rails will be removed."
Goodwin says there's no guarantee that the state Department of Transportation will authorize removal of the rails, but he feels strongly that the economic climate in New York will eventually put an end to what he calls recreational train riding.
In making his case to the board, Goodwin was joined by an old foe - Lake Placid resident Jim McCulley. The two have sparred in the past over things like motorized access to the Jackrabbit Trail, but this time, they were on the same page.
McCulley came to the meeting armed with a box of tax returns which he says show the Adirondack Scenic Railroad being subsidized between $300,000 and $600,000 annually.
"This stack right here, this paperwork right here, all this is bills submitted to the DOT for payment by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad for 2009," he said. "One year without a grant, the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is bankrupt."
And although town officials welcomed comment from the two men, it turns out plans to construct a bike path alongside the train tracks have been put on hold indefinitely.
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi says the first phase of the project - which would build a trail through wetlands - was too costly to complete without consolidating a pair of federal grants.
The money allotted for the first phase is $800,000 - the town wanted to pair that with a second grant for $1.4 million. That second grant would have brought the path all the way to Saranac Lake.
But Politi says a project manager with the state transportation department turned down the request to consolidate the grants.
"Since the applications and the federal aid agreements identify separate and distinct locations - phase one being from Lake Placid to Ray Brook and phase two being from Ray Brook to Saranac Lake - for the construction of the path and due to the competitive nature of the funding process - i.e. a matter of fairness to all other applicants whose projects were not funded - this request to combine the projects has been denied," he said.
The grant monies would have covered up to 80 percent of the project's cost; the remaining 20 percent would have come through in-kind services provided by the town.
Politi says without consolidating the grants, the project is essentially dead, meaning the town will have to return its share of the funding.
"That's the whole thing - that's what we've been talking about," he said. "It's a potential problem. If you can't consolidate the loans, you can't go forward with the parallel trail, if you can't go forward with the parallel recreation trail, then the next issue is, does the railroad stay? If the railroad stays, then you just have a rail corridor."
North Elba is looking at developing recreational bike paths on property owned by Arthur Lussi's family and at the town-owned Craig Wood golf course. Politi says his constituents have identified recreational trails as a high priority.
With North Elba backing off on its plan for a bike path next to the train tracks, the debate over what to do with the current rail corridor is likely to continue.