The legislature’s special Rail Corridor Committee, appointed last April, has given itself a fast-track Dec. 14 deadline to file formal recommendations with the full legislature on the future of county-owned Ulster & Delaware railroad corridor.
The nine-member committee faces not only a tight deadline — the last regularly scheduled meeting of the legislature is Dec. 15 — but a heavy lift, considering legislators and the public received a consultant’s 74-page report on “the highest and best use” of the corridor only Tuesday afternoon. It was due Nov. 29.
Several legislators complained at a committee meeting that they had had insufficient time to peruse a report that details the pros and cons of rail and trail and dual usage along the 38 miles of 19th-century U&D track from Kingston to Highmount.
Of particular concern to several legislators was that the county’s consultants, Stone Consulting and Design of Warren, Pa., did not offer an executive summary of its findings, i.e., its recommendations.
Randy Gustafson, the Stone Associate representative who compiled the report, stated, via speakerphone, that formal recommendations were not in the scope of the $30,000 contract his firm signed with the county last spring. Some legislators differed.
Committee Chairwoman Tracey Bartels of Gardiner allowed that “the consultants did a lot of work for $30,000, but there are numerous things we wish they had done.”
Critics also questioned why the consultants did not include cost estimates for the various alternatives they detailed and why they relied on Catskill Mountain Railroad’s 2015-20 business plan as the basis for its determinations on the future of rail operations. Kevin Smith of Woodstock, a trail advocate, called the report “railroad-oriented.”
The committee meeting attracted about a dozen trail supporters, a handful of rail advocates, led by CMRR President Ernest Hunt, and three members of the Hein administration.
Bartels chaired a mostly orderly meeting, considering the bile built up over several years of controversy between rail and trail advocates. It ran an inordinate two hours, achieving little more than raising questions about the consultant’s report.
She said the committee would meet “three, maybe four” more times, beginning Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Karen L. Binder Library. “Will we meet our deadline?” she said after Tuesday’s meeting. “I hope so.” Should the committee fall short, a new panel would have to be named by the legislature in January.
The county’s 25-year lease with CMRR expires on May 31, 2016.