Saranac Lake board votes down rails-to-trail resolution

SARANAC LAKE – The village Board of Trustees on Monday failed to pass a resolution calling for the state to convert the railroad corridor between Lake Placid and Old Forge into a multi-use recreational trail.

The resolution, proposed by Trustee Allie Pelletieri, asked state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald, state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to “expedite a rail-to-trail conversion” of the corridor. It said the current use of part of the railroad corridor by seasonal tourist trains “has not produced promised economic benefits” and that “a safe and easy scenic recreational trail will become a major tourist destination throughout the year, creating jobs and expanding economic opportunities across the region.”

Before the board began its debate, opponents of and proponents for removing the tracks addressed the board.

Wayne Tucker, a board member of both the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society (which runs the Adirondack Scenic Railroad) and the Adirondack Carousel, asked trustees not to weigh in on the controversial issue until DEC and DOT have decided whether they will reopen the management plan for the rail corridor. Four state-hosted informational meetings on that question took place over the last two weeks.

“Nothing’s gained by you putting yourselves out in a position either way,” Tucker said.

If the rails are removed and the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is no longer in operation, the carousel will suffer, Tucker said. The carousel is located in William Morris Park, along the railroad tracks near Union Depot.

“When that train is in the station, the line is out the door for people waiting to ride on the merry-go-round,” Tucker said. “The days the train doesn’t run, our volume is cut in half.”

Tucker said he didn’t think the number of people using a proposed recreational trail in the corridor would come close the number of customers the railroad provides to the carousel.

Amy Catania of Historic Saranac Lake also urged the board to put off a vote, saying it would “complicate” the public debate that’s happening right now. She said her organization supports preserving the railroad tracks because the corridor is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Representatives of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates also spoke. ARTA President Joe Mercurio said more than 370 businesses, including many in Saranac Lake, are now on board with his group’s plan to rip up the tracks and turn the corridor into a recreational trail.

“The board has a chance to get behind something that can make a real difference,” he said. “The potential for an economic gain with a rail trail here is huge.”

ARTA co-founder Dick Beamish said the carousel could lose some business for a while if the railroad tracks are removed but it “would be revived when people start flooding in to use the rail-trail.” Although the corridor is on the national register, it doesn’t mean the “rotting ties and rusting rails” have to stay there forever, Beamish added.

When the board took up the issue, Trustee Paul Van Cott, who works for the state Adirondack Park Agency, recused himself and left the room.

Trustee Barbara Rice said the board should stick with a resolution it previously passed calling for the state to reopen the rail corridor unit management plan.

“We did that because we wanted more information so we could make an informed, appropriate decision,” she said. “I still think that’s the right way to go. They’ve done a lot of information gathering, and they’re at the cusp of finishing that up.”

Pelletieri said he believes the carousel will have more business with the trail than the railroad. He noted that his masonry business is located across from Saranac Lake’s depot, “and I see the amount of non-activity that goes on across the street daily.”

Pelletieri also said the board should weigh in on the issue because it’s “elected to make decisions.

“This speaks for itself,” Pelletieri said, holding up the list of businesses supporting conversion of the rail corridor. “I’m not going to turn my back on all these businesses that need help.”

Rice, who co-owns Rice Furniture on Main Street, noted that the Downtown Saranac Lake Committee has worked with the railroad to get its trains to stop longer, and said there was a “very positive response” to that from local businesses, particularly restaurants.

“And I think the figures that are out there, like 11,000 disembarkments from the train, that’s not inconsequential; that’s significant,” Rice said.

When Mayor Clyde Rabideau called for a vote, the resolution failed to pass, 1-2, with only Pelletieri in favor and Rice and Trustee Tom Catillaz opposed. Rabideau didn’t vote, as he couldn’t have changed the outcome, but he said he supports finishing the UMP.

“You’re not going to get from ‘A’ to ‘B’ until the UMP process is completed,” Rabideau said. “That’s what we’ve got to get going. I think the facts will speak for themselves.”

Catillaz said the board should wait to see what the UMP review leads to “rather than jump on this bandwagon or that bandwagon.

“It’s going to hurt somebody either way,” Catillaz said.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or