There’s a new development in the controversial plan to develop a recreational trail near the Ashokan Reservoir.
Ulster County has filed a reply to a railway group’s petition that calls on a federal transportation board to stop rail removal near the Ashokan Reservoir for a recreational trail. The county is requesting additional time to file a more detailed response, but points to documentation that refutes claims in the petition.
The nonprofit U&D Railway Revitalization Corporation had filed a petition January 16 with the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, questioning whether Ulster County had the legal authority to begin removing an 11.5-mile rail portion of the nearly 39-mile rail corridor. Rail removal began earlier in January. U&D questions whether the railroad line was formally declared abandoned along with ownership of the corridor.
Now the county has filed a document with the STB, dated January 24, urging the Board to review the facts it supplied which the county says demonstrate the line at issue — the Catskill Mountain Branch, also known as the Ulster & Delaware Railroad line — has been abandoned and is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Board. The county provides documentation from 1977 showing the Catskill Mountain Branch’s abandonment. Larry Roth is U&D Railway Revitalization Corp spokesman.
“We, of course, are going to review that and attempt to verify it. We have contradictory information, of course,” Roth says. “According to the Surface Transportation Board, they still have the corridor listed as, in fact, not abandoned so, obviously, there’s something that has to be reconciled there, part of why we started this whole process.”
An STB spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The county declined comment due to pending litigation. Ulster County has an agreement with the New York City Department of Environmental Protection regarding easements at the Ashokan Reservoir, and retaining railroad rights-of-way in creating a recreational trail. Roth contends that even if the STB accepts the county’s documentation regarding abandonment, questions remain.
“We are still of the opinion that the whole process by Ulster County has been, I’m not sure if sloppy is the right word to use; it’s just that there are a number of questions left unanswered that should’ve been,” says Roth.
The county, in its document filed with the STB, states that after following procedure, it purchased the Catskill Mountain Branch in 1979 from the Penn Central estate. In addition, the county is asking the Board to push back the deadline to file a response to the petition, from February 5 to March 7, as the county was not properly served with a copy of the petition and the facts and files surrounding the petition are around 40 years old.
Ulster County has an approved policy that permits tourism railroad operations to continue in the City of Kingston and Mount Tremper/Phoenicia segments. It also allows previously unused segments of the rail corridor from Kingston to Highmount, home of Belleayre Ski Center, to be converted into a public recreational trail. Roth says U&D wants to see the rail corridor preserved and restored, which could include trail development alongside in portions.
“We think dismembering an intact rail corridor is not in the best interest of the region,” Roth says. “It closes the door on any future use of the line as a rail corridor, which means all the things you can do with a railroad.”
County officials have said that it would be impossible to re-establish rail operations along the entire 38-mile corridor because of decades of severe deterioration and damage.