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Adirondack Council's Principles Guide Remsen-to-Lake Placid Adirondack Railroad Corridor Use

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Adirondack Council's Principles Guide Remsen-to-Lake Placid Adirondack Railroad Corridor Use
State is Considering Options for 120-Mile Rail Line through Western Adirondack Park

For immediate release: Monday, July 14, 2014

For more information:
John Sheehan
518-441-1340 cell
518-432-1770 ofc.
jsheehan@adirondackcouncil.org

REMSEN, N.Y. – The Adirondack Park’s largest environmental organization today thanked New York State officials for keeping the Adirondack Council’s six principles in mind as they consider an update to the management plan for the120-mile-long Adirondack Railroad corridor. The Council’s six recommended principles are designed to protect the corridor, adjoining natural resources and Park communities.

The state is responsible for determining where hikers, trains, bikers and snowmobiles will be allowed on this Remsen-to-Lake Placid, state-owned travel corridor. State officials announced on July 9 that they would consider management changes. The corridor is currently maintained for rail purposes, but trains are in regular use only at the far ends of the corridor, near Old Forge in the south and at Lake Placid in the north. Some snowmobile use is currently allowed on the 90 miles that separate the two train operations.

Recreational trail activists have for several years called for an end to scenic rail use and for removal of the rails north of the section used by the Old Forge tourist train, in favor of a hiking, biking and snowmobile riding. Train enthusiasts have called for no change in management.

The Adirondack Council had provided the state with a set of six criteria by which it should judge the merits of any proposal to change the current use of all, or part, of the rail corridor. Without taking sides in the disagreement, the organization said there were vital considerations to keep in mind, regardless of which uses the state wishes to promote where.

“When considering the uses proposed, there are a few important ground rules the state should follow to make sure uses are compatible with the wild character and ecological health of America’s greatest park, and supportive of the economies of our local communities,” said Diane Fish, Deputy Director of the Adirondack Council. “In sum, environmental protection should be paramount. Protecting the integrity of the corridor as a travel corridor should be non-negotiable. Corridor use and management should support local communities and should be financially viable and sustainable. Any new plan should be compatible with the state’s Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, and the review process should be transparent and open to the public. It’s also appreciated that the State is committing itself to looking for snowmobile connecter routes between Old Forge and Tupper Lake that avoid the remote interior of this large complex of public and private wild forest lands.”

Fish said these criteria help state officials sort through thousands of opinions on the fate of the rail corridor, which currently connects some of the park’s tiny western communities with Union Station in Utica, where Amtrak passenger rail service is available. Scenic railroads are operating in Old Forge and Lake Placid, but not on most of the 90 miles of track that separates them.

The principles the Adirondack Council proposes the state follow for travel corridor decision-making are as follows:

  1. Keep ecological and environmental protection paramount: Protect the ecological and wild forest character of the Adirondacks. The State Land Master Plan (SLMP) for the Adirondacks makes resource protection paramount. If portions of the travel corridor are open for recreational use, education, oversight and enforcement must assure no illegal off-corridor use, including any motorized activity in adjoining wilderness or canoe areas. No ATVs or similar motorized uses (except snowmobiles and/or trains) should be permitted. Potential negative environmental impacts of alternative uses should be identified, studied, understood and avoided to the maximum extent possible.
  2. Protect the integrity of the travel corridor: Keep rail travel corridor options consistent with the Council’s core rail corridor policy. Recognize and respect the unique heritage of the corridor, as per its inclusion on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Protect and strongly support the integrity of the travel corridor right-of-way, and retention of its status as a separate linear land management unit in the SLMP regardless of the presence or absence of rail. Do no harm to the long term potential for the corridor to serve energy efficient cost effective transportation needs in future centuries.
  3. Support Vibrant Communities: Consider what corridor use or uses provide communities with the greatest potential short and long-term economic benefits, to achieve and maintain environmentally sustainable communities. Both rail and recreational rail-trail uses offer potential economic support for Adirondack communities. State decision makers should secure independent third-party economic impact analysis of rail vs. trails to assist in consideration of options. In the case of competing economic benefits, documented support from local municipalities and affected communities should be a significant factor in decision-making.
  4. Consider economic and operational viability and sustainability of proposed corridor use: Economic sustainability is desirable for corridor use and communities. State decisions should incorporate independent third-party review and analysis of the current status of the rail operation (economic viability, infrastructure costs, capital improvements, etc.) and cost/benefit analysis of the capital, infrastructure, operating costs and management structure available for both rail and trail options. There must be reasonable and realistic expectations that capital and other funding needed to make the option or options selected is or will be available for the long-term. There should be high confidence in the economic and operational viability of proposed and alternative corridor use and management options.
  5. Ensure conformance with the Adirondack Park SLMP: Travel corridor management should be consistent with a regularly updated Unit Management Plan (UMP; a site-specific subdivision of the SLMP), avoid conflicts with adjoining state planning units, and compliment the larger land complexes the corridor traverses (such as the Council proposed Bob Marshall Wild Lands Complex).
  6. Ensure a transparent public process: Any process that updates the UMP should include opportunity for analysis of feasible alternative community connections and full public input, including public hearings in and outside of the Park.

“The Adirondack Council recognizes the public value and respects the unique ecological, recreational, and historical aspects of the Remsen-to-Lake Placid Travel Corridor,” said Fish. “If train and rail use on all or part of the corridor is consistent with these principles, the Adirondack Council supports that. If a rail-trail on all or part of the corridor is consistent with these principles, the Adirondack Council supports that.”

The Adirondack Council is privately funded, not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of New York’s six-million-acre Adirondack Park. The Council envisions an Adirondack Park comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by working forests and farms, and vibrant rural communities. The Council carries out its mission and vision through research, education, advocacy and legal action. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

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