Tupper Lake trustee: Board must take stand on rail/trail

TUPPER LAKE – Village Trustee Rick Donah wants the board here to take a stance on the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor debate.

During Monday’s meeting, Donah read a story from a tattered, yellowed newspaper page dated Nov. 22, 1948, about a new record for the longest and heaviest train run in the Adirondacks. The train weighed 3,830 tons and pulled 93 freight cars – 45 loaded and 48 unloaded – from Utica to Malone.

Donah said that disparity was important to note.

“You can see back then that 48 cars were empty and 45 were full, and that was a record load at the time,” Donah said. “Obviously this was the heyday. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, I think Tupper Lake benefitted from the railroad.”

Donah said those days are gone and pointed out that Mayor Paul Maroun thinks the rails should stay. Donah disagrees.

“At this point in time, I think we have to look at the past and say, how many years can we sit and wait for change to come to us, instead of us pushing change and working for change?” Donah said. “If they’re (the railroad tracks) not going to be used for Amtrak services, for passengers or to bring thousands of people up here, then we need to pull those tracks up and build that recreational trail.”

In 2009, Next Stop Tupper Lake organizers finished building a $400,000 replica of the train depot that once stood when the railroad was booming. The depot represents the hopes of those in the community who want the rails to stay. Mayor Maroun is among them.

“I’m for the railroad and the trail,” Maroun told the Enterprise. “I think they should both work together. Some have this idea that (a recreational trail) is going to bring 200 to 300 snowmobilers into Tupper Lake on the weekend, and then in the summer they’re going to have 80,000 people on it, but I just don’t believe it.”

If a resolution regarding the village choosing a side in the rail/trail debate comes before the board during next month’s meeting, Maroun said he will vote no. In January, the board voted 4-1 to pass a resolution asking the state to reopen the unit management plan for the state-owned corridor. Maroun cast the dissenting vote. The state departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation are now considering whether to reopen the plan.

“They (trustees) just wanted a resolution passed before the last hearing, before the comment period closes so they could put it in, but that’s not going to happen,” Maroun said, referring to the state’s Sept. 25 deadline for public comments on the plan.

The public comment period was accompanied by meetings held in Tupper Lake, Utica, Ray Brook and Old Forge over the past two weeks. DOT and DEC staff will use the comments to make a recommendation to the departments’ commissioners on whether to reopen the plan.

Donah said he thinks Tupper Lake should weigh in on the debate.

“I just feel the time has come for us to step up and take a leadership role in Tupper Lake and decide what we want to do with this corridor,” Donah said. “How much longer can we wait for our community, for the businesses of our community, for the youth of our community? Because a lot of them have risked everything they own to start a business in this town. The motel owners, the restaurants – every day that they operate is a big risk, so for us to sit back and do nothing is unacceptable.”