An Adirondack Scenic Railroad train pulls into the Lake Placid train station from Saranac Lake.
Members of the North Elba Town Board Tuesday, Sept. 11 decided to send a strong message to the state of New York: Tear up the railroad tracks.
Although the vote was close at 3-2, all board members agreed that the town’s priority is a recreational path between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake.
“Whether the tracks are there or not, we’re building a bike path to Saranac Lake,” said Councilman Jack Favro at the board's meeting at the North Elba Town House in Saranac Lake.
“Well said,” added Councilman Jay Rand.
For months, proponents and opponents of the railroad tracks have lobbied local governments to choose a side. Town and village officials have been asked to back either the Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates (ARTA), favoring removal of the tracks from Lake Placid to Old Forge and the creation of the Great Adirondack Recreation Path, or the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society (ARPS) and its allies, favoring restoration of the tracks and rail service along the 90-mile corridor.
“It’s certainly an emotional topic,” said North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi.
Bolstered by comments from Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a recent trip to Keene, Councilman Bob Miller presented a resolution to the board that essentially said the state should remove the railroad tracks in the town of North Elba. Most of the tracks between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake — used during the summer by the ARPS-operated Adirondack Scenic Railroad for tourist excursions — are located within the town.
“My thinking is we need to tell the governor what we want,” Miller said.
When Cuomo was in Keene on Aug. 29 to deliver $640,000 for a new firehouse, an Adirondack Daily Enterprise reporter asked him about the controversial issue. The governor said the decision should come from the region, not the state, meaning the North Country Regional Economic Development Council that was formed in 2011.
To date, the Council has favored refurbishing the railroad tracks from Old Forge to Lake Placid so it can be used for tourist excursions and possibly freight. Two members of the Council — Adirondack North Country Association Executive Director Kate Fish and North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas (who co-chairs the Council) — have publicly backed the railroad project. Both attended the Next Stop! Tupper Lake launch of the “On Track to Saranac” campaign in November 2011, giving speeches to the crowd and lauding the railroad’s economic impact to the region.
“Do you think this resolution is going to make a difference?” Politi asked.
“I don’t expect them to change their decision, “Miller said. “My hope is that the state will receive this and say, ‘Yes, finally somebody stood up and told us what we already know. We’re wasting money here. We’re wasting time and money.’ ... I know that we’re not going to be the only government entity that’s going to be discussing this. And my hope is the other towns and villages will do the same, the state will listen and take out the tracks.”
The $4.5 million price tag associated with building a recreational path between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake next to the tracks — as opposed to removing the tracks and building the path where the tracks were previously located — is higher than Miller would like to see.
“As a fiscal conservative, I just think what we’re doing is wasteful,” Miller said.
The resolution was seconded by Councilman Favro, who seemed as though he was going to vote against the resolution during the discussion.
“I don’t want to stop momentum,” Favro said, adding that maybe the town should wait until the bike path construction gets started before advocating for removal of the tracks.
Miller said he respectfully disagreed with Favro that the town should wait to take a stance.
Yet, when the vote came, Favro joined Miller and Rand in voting in favor of the resolution, while Politi and Councilman Derek Doty voted against. Both Doty and Politi said they agreed with the resolution, but the timing wasn’t right.
“It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s just the timing of it,” Politi said, adding that it could take years to remove the tracks and that this resolution may slow down the progress of building the rec path between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake. “It would delay things dramatically.”
“I’m a strong proponent of the bike path,” Doty said. “I believe we can still have both (the tracks and the bike path).”