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Lewis officials continue tweaking proposed rail-trail restrictions

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators continue to tweak a draft law restricting rails-to-trails development, with an eye toward a final vote in early June.

“There’s still time for a lot of public input,” said Legislature Vice-Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, at a special meeting Wednesday.

Mr. Tabolt said afterward that he remains optimistic of reaching a compromise that will make the project palatable to most legislators.

For the past several months, county officials have discussed buying the 10-mile Lowville and Beaver River Railroad line from Lowville to Croghan from the Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern Railroad Corp. for $425,000; the county would then acquire the 17-mile Lowville Industrial Track from Lowville to West Carthage for $1. Under the proposal, the corporation, a subsidiary of Genesee Valley Transportation, Batavia, would remove tracks from the donated spur so it could be developed as a recreational trail, but the Lowville-to-Croghan spur would remain intact to allow the Railway Historical Society of Northern New York to possibly operate a scenic railroad from its depot in Croghan.

A $450,000 state grant awarded in 2010 is to cover purchase costs.

Lawmakers at a work session last week discussed potential restrictions for the lines, stemming from a raw proposal developed by Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, and a corresponding rough-draft law composed by County Attorney Richard J. Graham. A few legislators and Mr. Graham later revised the draft legislation, and the latest version was presented to lawmakers for discussion Wednesday.

The current proposal would prohibit ATVs, aside from official county and emergency vehicles, from using the corridors. Snowmobiles would be allowed only by formal request of a town council for its portion of the line, then approval by county legislators.

The railway society would have six years to develop a tourist railroad, provided it assumes all financial responsibility for the operation, and local municipalities could make improvements at their own cost.

Special events, like bike races, could be held on the lines at the request of local municipalities or non-profit organizations. However, events promoting restricted uses, like ATV riding, would not be allowed.

The county trail coordinator would also be allowed to develop trails for non-motorized recreation, provided all costs — aside from county staff salaries — are covered by “grants, donations or from sources other than the Lewis County tax base.” Mr. Tabolt suggested that clause should also allow the use of county equipment for trail work and the payment of county money up front, provided it will later be reimbursed by grant funds.

Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, continued to speak against the proposed rail purchase, expressing concern that the project would ultimately cost taxpayers something.

However, lawmakers unanimously voted to forward copies of the draft law to all 17 towns to give them ample opportunity to make suggestions.

Legislators next Tuesday will likely set a public hearing on the proposed law for their June 5 meeting, allowing the matter to come to vote then.

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