New York state must step in

To the editor:

Train advocates have used local media to launch repeated personal attacks against advocates for an inexpensive Adirondack Rail Trail that could bring thousands of visitors to our communities and businesses. After targeting other trail advocates with personal attacks, recent Adirondack Daily Enterprise Guest Commentaries (Nov. 13 and Dec. 10) have targeted yours truly. You’d think I had revealed state secrets to the Russians.

How might I have provoked such personal attacks? I have presented evidence regarding how ill-suited the state-owned Remsen-to-Lake Placid transportation corridor is for commercial freight, passenger or long-distance excursion rail service. I have offered evidence regarding the very substantial long-term costs of expanding Adirondack Scenic Railroad operations to the full length of the corridor, and the related potential taxpayer burden. I have discussed the valuable economic benefits the Adirondack Rail Trail would bring to our region. When a train advocate has published misleading claims, I have in some cases offered evidence to refute them. In other cases I have not responded, especially when the vitriol has been so outlandish. I have repeatedly called for a civil dialogue on rail vs. trail, based on evidence and not personal attacks.

Here are some distinctions between evidence-based advocacy and personal attacks. If you present objective and authoritative economic data or other relevant evidence, that’s good. Discuss assumptions that serve as the basis for your numbers. Feel free to present evidence that disagrees with your opponent. However, if you criticize others as individuals, or insult them, or judge them, or engage in name-calling or innuendo, you are engaging in a personal attack and have no basis to claim the moral high ground. Evidence contributes to the public dialogue, but personal attacks detract from it.

When one person attacks, our whole region is harmed. Whether we prefer rail or trail, we must all recognize that a community that embraces or tolerates venomous personal attacks will discourage many talented people from participating in government or public policy discussions. In fact, I recently spoke with a very well-respected local person who told me that he avoids any public policy engagement because he is unwilling to expose himself to such attacks. Given the seriousness of the challenges we face, we need to be able to enlist all of our region’s substantial talent.

This newspaper-based debate deteriorates by the day and is taking on an increasingly menacing tone. The state of New York must step in soon, declare its decision to reopen the management plan for the corridor, and describe their processes and decision criteria for this important public policy decision. New York state’s economic development experts should serve in a lead role since this is primarily about improving the economy of the region. We’ll all be allowed to submit our evidence. The state’s review should be an open, objective and transparent process, leading to a fair, evidence-based decision that should be supported by everyone.

Alternatively, economic development authorities and other experts from the state could be brought in to examine the evidence and arbitrate a settlement of this issue between rail and trail advocates, local governments, representatives from the business community and other key stakeholders. Recent budget news from Franklin and Essex counties is troubling enough to make this an urgent issue that must be resolved as soon as possible.

David Banks

Board member, Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates

Lake Clear