Stop dithering and reopen railroad plan

Public meetings on the great Adirondack rail-vs.-trail debate had already begun when people learned that the state hasn’t even decided whether to open this can of worms.

That was a surprise, and a disappointment.

The tightly orchestrated public meetings of the last two weeks produced hundreds of comments, plus hundreds more written ones, but what hadn’t been clear in the state’s prior announcements is that these comments may not actually influence any decision about what can go in the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor. Rather, the state will use them to decide whether, on one hand, to get off its rear end and stage yet another extensive public process, or whether this rail/trail mess is not worth that much effort.

Goodness gracious – of course it’s worth it. This is one of the biggest and thorniest public debates in Adirondack history. This newspaper has published hundreds of letters and commentaries on this subject in the last couple of years; we’ve never seen anything like it before.

The boards of almost all the towns and villages along the corridor, plus St. Lawrence County and the New York State Snowmobile Association, have passed resolutions either urging the state to reopen the corridor’s 1996 unit management plan, which was supposed to be updated every five years, or to go ahead and replace the tracks with a trail.

People here in the northern Adirondacks talk about this issue all the time. It is deeply polarizing and also of huge interest.

Even though all of us Adirondackers are co-owners of this corridor – along with every other New Yorker – none of us has any power to do anything about it. The state departments of Transportation and Environmental Conservation, which manage it, have tried to avoid the fiery debate for most of the last few years, so when they announced earlier this year that they’ll take it up, people up here thought the state was finally ready to deal with this.

Not so fast, it turns out.

DOT and DEC’s slowness on this issue is out of step with the public. One hundred to 200 people showed up at each of the four public meetings, even the two held during working hours. The rooms the state had picked to hold them were too small. Maybe officials underestimated how big a deal this is to people up here.

Yes, the state definitely should reopen the 1996 plan for the corridor. We understand the state can’t revisit every UMP every five years like it’s supposed to, but this isn’t like the others. The Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor is a unique asset with a ton of potential – and baggage. No other unit of state land in the Adirondacks is so provocative. It’s a mess if there ever was one, but only the DOT and DEC can clean it up.

The good news is that most people seem, for now, to be ready to put their faith in these departments to do the job. That trust will abate, however, if these departments don’t stop dithering and get to work.

Meanwhile, the departments should keep all the comments generated in this recent process and carry them over to the UMP review. These good citizens deserve to not have to submit them all over again.

All this public interest needs to mean something. People on both sides of this issue have made it clear that this is a big public dilemma that needs to be sorted out.