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Railroad Drops Lawsuit Against Ulster County As Rail Proponents Criticize Plan

Controversy continues over a rail-to-trail plan in Ulster County amid an agreement announced Tuesday between a railroad operator and the county executive.

The same day Ulster County Executive Mike Hein announced an agreement with Catskill Mountain Railroad in which CMRR agreed to drop its lawsuit against the county, opponents of the compromise rail-trail, or segmented, plan from Kingston to Shandaken that is set to move forward appealed to county legislators. Hein points out the legislature in December voted unanimously in favor of the compromise plan. He describes this plan.

“There will continue to be train operations where it has proven to be successful, and that is in the Kingston area and in the Phoenicia area,” says Hein. “And then the trail opportunities will be in places like the Ashokan Reservoir, where we have worked with the New York City DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] and we have received $2.5 million to do a beautiful rail-trail system that will open it up to the entire public free of charge, without permit, for the first time in over 100 years.”

The suit by CMRR came when Hein rolled out a plan for the majority of the rail corridor to be converted to trail only. The CMRR lease of the Catskill Mountain branch of the county-owned Ulster & Delaware rail corridor is set to expire May 31. Requests for comment from CMRR were not returned in time for this broadcast. However, CMRR Director and Vice President Ernest Hunt did supply local media with a statement urging railroad supporters to embrace the compromise rails-with-trails plan wholeheartedly.

Bryan Blas supports full railroad operations. He was among those protesting the segmented plan outside the county building in Kingston. Blas and other rail supporters appeared at the public comment portion of the legislature’s meeting Tuesday. Blas is with Save The Rails and does not want any rails torn up.

“That’s what Hein wants but, as it turns out, it does not have to be torn up. It does not,” says Blas. “There’s no agreement to have them torn up.”

County Executive Hein emphasizes that legislators and other have studied extensively the feasibility of what is best in the rail corridor. Meanwhile, the county has issued a request for proposals for the sections designated for continued railroad use. Blas, who once volunteered for CMRR, hopes a different entity comes in wanting to run the whole line and not just the two portions in the compromise plan.

“What we really want to do is either get CMRR to get a new contract through Ulster County, someone to purchase the whole rain line from Ulster County, or getting another entity of some sort to take over where CMRR had to leave off,” Blas says.

Meanwhile Hein says CMRR dropping the suit has several benefits.

“It really is making the county whole with respect to its legal fees. It’s addressing some major environmental concerns that we had outlined for them,” says Hein. “And the good news, probably most of all, is that it is now in alignment with this compromise plan that we have laid out that allows there to be tourist-based train operations to remain in the Kingston area and in the Phoenicia area while simultaneously having this wonderful interconnected rail-trail system for now and for the future.”

Hein says a trail portion near the Ashokan Reservoir could be under construction as soon as next year and be ready about a year from then.

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