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Lewis legislators abandon rails-to-trails plan

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LOWVILLE — In a move that surprised even some legislators, the Lewis County Board of Legislators on Tuesday chose to abandon its long-discussed rails-to-trails idea.

“This local law is unacceptable,” said Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, chairman of the legislative Economic Development Committee.

A resolution to set a public hearing for June 5 on a proposed law restricting rails-to-trails development primarily to non-motorized uses failed to pass by a 5-5 vote. Six votes are required for passage on the 10-member Legislature.

Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, and Legislators William J. Burke, R-West Lowville; Patrick F. Wallace, R-Lowville, and Jerry H. King, R-West Leyden, joined Mr. Lucas in opposition to holding the hearing. Mr. Bush paused noticeably before casting the deciding vote.

At Mr. Lucas’s suggestion, lawmakers then voted 8-2 to inform state officials that the county will decline a $450,000 Environmental Protection Fund grant, awarded in 2010, that was to be used to purchase a pair of abandoned railroad lines. Legislature Vice Chairman Michael A. Tabolt, R-Croghan, and Legislator Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen, were opposed.

“Just when you think you’ve got everything figured out,” Mr. Tabolt said after the meeting.

Mr. Tabolt, who over the past couple of months has spearheaded with Legislator Philip Hathway, R-Harrisville, efforts to find a compromise rails-to-trails program that would be acceptable to most lawmakers, said he did not enter the floor discussion on the matter since he had expected it to pass.

During the legislative discussion, Mr. Lucas argued that without including motorized recreation in the project, “we’re never going to be able to support it.”

“I think we’re buying a horse where we don’t have a barn,” Mr. Burke said.

The county has trail development money available through ATV trail permit fees, but those funds are to be dedicated to ATV-related expenses.

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 then was to 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, was to remove tracks from the donated spur so it could be developed as a recreational trail, with the Lowville-to-Croghan spur remaining intact to allow the Railway Historical Society of Northern New York possibly to operate a scenic railroad from its depot in Croghan.

The proposed law, developed at a few different sessions over the past month, would have effectively prohibited ATVs from using the corridors and required approval from the county and any affected towns for snowmobile use.

John S. Herbrand, GVT’s secretary and general counsel, at an informational session in late March said if the county chose not to go through with the deal, the rail company likely will remove all of the rails on both lines for scrap metal. The company then could either hold the land or seek out a nonprofit agency, such as a snowmobile or ATV club, willing to take over the corridors for trail use.

A giveaway of the lines, if forthcoming, presumably would happen before the end of 2013, when a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on them expires.

Removal of the tracks would nullify any chance for a tourist railroad, which railway society members have been promoting for well over a decade.

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