Saranac Lake seeks grant for rail trail connection

SARANAC LAKE — The village is seeking more grant money to make a connection to the state’s proposed rail trail.

Meanwhile, the state is holding off on seeking contractors to remove the railroad tracks between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid because of a court-issued stay.

Funds for connectors

The village Board of Trustees agreed Monday to file an Adirondack Smart Growth grant application with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. It’s asking for $75,000 to construct a multi-use connector trail between the proposed rail trail and Lake Flower Avenue via Will Rogers Drive.

The funds, if they’re awarded, could supplement another, larger grant the village is seeking to pay for rail trail connections throughout the village.

The state has approved a plan to remove the railroad tracks between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake and convert the corridor to a multi-use trail for walking, biking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling. Railroad supporters are challenging the decision in court.

The state planned to tear up the tracks starting this spring, but Franklin County Court Judge Robert Main Jr. has issued a stay on rail removal as he awaits more information about title issues and historic preservation of the corridor.

Nevertheless, village officials are moving ahead with their rail trail connector plans.

“Until the state says otherwise, we’re operating under the assumption there will be a trail there someday,” said village Community Development Director Jeremy Evans. “It goes through the heart of our community, and if we really want it to provide as much benefit to the community as possible, we’ve got to do our part to figure out how to make it easy for people to get to and from. We’re trying to be proactive.”

The Smart Growth grant would help connect Lake Flower Avenue to the proposed rail trail through the village sand pit off of Will Rogers Drive. Village Manager John Sweeney said he worked with Department of Public Works Superintendent Jeff Dora to come up with a cost estimate of $102,000 in materials and labor to do the necessary work.

“The plan is to create an access point on the southern wall of the pit so it curves around down to the future rail trail,” Sweeney said. “It was really a best guess on our part to get the numbers for submission. They’re reasonable, but they’re probably not 100 percent accurate.”

Trustee Allie Pelletieri asked if the connector would “infringe” on the sand pit. “Minimally,” was Sweeney’s answer.

Pelletieri noted that some of the banks in the sand pit are steep. Sweeney said some fencing might be necessary.

“The pitches will have to be addressed,” he said. “They might have to extend the toe of the slope out somewhat further.”

The Smart Growth grant requires a match. If the village can match it at 50 percent with its own labor and expenses, it gets maximum points on its application, Evans noted.

“We’re still waiting for more refined cost estimates, but we think we can do the whole project for $150,000,” he said.

The resolution approving submission of the application says the Lake Flower Avenue connector trail “would provide residents from other areas of the village safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian access to the businesses and services along Lake Flower Avenue and allow residents in nearby neighborhoods convenient access to the rail trail.”

Village officials hope to do the same with the other connections they’re planning to the proposed rail trail, on Broadway near Aubuchon Hardware, and on Brandy Brook Avenue near the River Street intersection. To cover the costs of all the connections, in October the village submitted an application for more than $1 million in federal Transportation Alternatives Program funds, which are administered by the state Department of Transportation.

“We’re hoping to hear back this spring about that,” Evans said.

Design firm picked

Since October, a rail trail stakeholders group has met to work out the details of implementing the trail. Trustee Rich Shapiro is on the committee. Reading from the minutes of the group’s last meeting, he said requests for proposals for removal of the rails haven’t been sent out because of the court-issued stay.

“But the design aspect of things is going along,” Shapiro said. “The design firm is Creighton Manning, the ones who worked (with the town of North Elba) on the partial trail that would have come out of Lake Placid before it got abandoned.”

The lawsuit filed by the Adirondack Railway Preservation Society has been delayed since the state discovered it didn’t own fee title to several parcels of land in the corridor, including three centered around the North Country Community College campus in Saranac Lake.

Shapiro, reading from the committee’s meeting notes, said the college and its sponsoring counties, Franklin and Essex, have provided letters “indicating their desire to resolve the ownership issues in a manner that allows the state to move forward with construction of the trail.”

The judge had also asked the state to provide a written update on how it plans to comply with state historic preservation guidelines after it removes the rails.

Shapiro said the committee has received letter from the state Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, “expressing satisfaction with DEC and DOT’s plan for interpreting historic resources.”

By Patricia Older

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