Trustee upset over rail support letter

TUPPER LAKE – At least one village trustee is upset about how things went down when the village board agreed to support a grant for the Adirondack Rail Preservation Society.

Trustee Rick Donah said that when he voted in favor of sending a letter to the state, supporting ARPS and the Adirondack North Country Association’s application for $15.2 million in federal money to rehabilitate the rails between Big Moose and Saranac Lake, he was led to believe that part of that money would go to trail development in the corridor.

“The village board was under the assumption that this was truly a grant for rails and trails, and obviously that’s not the case,” Donah told the Enterprise Friday. “It was kind of jammed down our throat, honestly. It wasn’t even something we knew about.”

He said he didn’t realize the grant was strictly for rail money until reading an Enterprise story, noting that the Tupper Lake Free Press also made it sound like the grant money would support trails as well. Free Press Editor and Publisher Dan McClelland has been vocal in his support of the railroad.

Donah said Tupper Lakers are being intentionally misled about the grant. He said an ARPS board member should have come to the village board meeting and explained what the grant application was about and answered the board’s questions.

Donah said he believes there is something like a 50/50 split in public opinion in Tupper Lake when it comes to rails versus trail in the corridor.

“I’m not about to go on record supporting a rail-only restoration at this point,” Donah said.

Village Mayor Paul Maroun, who asked his board to approve the letter, has held off signing and sending the letter of support since he heard from Donah about his concerns. Maroun has been vocal about his support for the train in the past.

Maroun said he didn’t know at the time that the grant money was only for rails. He explained that the overall goal for ARPS and ANCA is to create both rails and trails in the corridor.

“The overall project that ANCA’s trying to do is still a rail and trail system, and this is going to be part of the rail and trail system,” Maroun said this morning. “I said, ‘Rick, there is no intent to deceive.’ The words are a little tricky.”

Maroun said an ARPS board member will come to a village board meeting soon to explain the project to village trustees, and they can decide what to do then.

Al Dunham, an ARPS board member, made a short presentation at the town board meeting where town council members approved a similar support letter. Town Supervisor Roger Amell asked Dunham at that meeting how much of the money would go toward trails, and Dunham told him none.

Ron LaScala, who attends most town and village board meetings and ran an unsuccessful bid for village trustee last year, had attended that town board meeting and asked Maroun the same question at the village board meeting. Maroun had said he wasn’t sure.

LaScala called out the village board in a post on his political Facebook page.

“I think the Board failed to do its duties,” LaScala wrote. “It is their responsibility to know the facts before they take a vote. i feel the Board also failed to represent the will of the people.”

He noted that nearly 50 people showed up to a village board meeting earlier this year in which village board members voted 4-1 to open the unit management plan for the rail corridor, a step many believe would end up reverting at least part of the corridor’s use to a trail since the railroad group has taken more time than it was given in the plan to rehabilitate the corridor.

“Tupper Lake needs real leadership,” LaScala wrote. “Board members need to have conviction in their votes. Vote on facts and stand up for the people they represent. Dirty politics and the ‘Good Old Boys’ have put Tupper Lake into the economic position it is in today.”

Franklin County support

In addition to being mayor, Maroun also represents Tupper Lake on the Franklin County Board of Legislators. Legislators approved a resolution to send their own support letter for the rail rehab grant at their regular meeting Thursday.

The resolution passed by that board calls it a “Rails With Trails” project but states that it would upgrade the rails between Big Moose and Saranac Lake to class II.

All seven legislators added their names to the resolution in support of it.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or