County exec railed by rail trail-ers

VOORHEESVILLE Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy met with village and town residents at Village Hall here Tuesday to give his overview of the county budget and a brief version of his State of the County address, but local supporters of the proposed rail trail derailed his visit.

“What services out of the county do you really want?” McCoy said to begin his explanation for raising county taxes higher than a suggested 2-percent cap. “Call your legislator. Call my office. Let us know what you want.”

Audience members listened to McCoy’s recap of the county budget, and then asked why the next section of the Albany County rail trail has not been approved to open.

“Don’t give us the numbers that it’s too expensive. It isn’t,” said a rail trail supporter. Referencing the fact that McCoy is calling his series of around-the-county appearances a “listening tour,” the supporter went on, “You’re not listening.”

“That’s not fair,” McCoy said. “People are worried about others on their property.”

Last week, a similar scene was played out in the town of Bethlehem, with the county executive quoting expenses and rail trail volunteers shooting them down.

In November last year, Friends of the Rail Trail, who call their group FORT, asked for and received the Voorheesville village board’s support to apply for grants to open a portion of the trail from Voorheesville Avenue to Hilton Road.

The entire 9-mile rail trail, if opened, could run from Albany, partially through the town of Bethlehem, and end in New Scotland in Voorheesville. Many residential properties abut the trail previously used by railroads.

Last June, the first 2-mile section of the rail trail opened in New Scotland.

On Tuesday, McCoy told the group in Village Hall that a $2.5 million grant the county received for the rail trail required the county to put up an additional $5 million it does not have. He also said that the long trail includes eight bridges, which would require millions of dollars to fix to cover all liabilities. Another million would be needed to move fiber optic wires on the trail, he said.

Two years ago, the not-for-profit organization Scenic Hudson and the New York State Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation department each contributed $350,000, meeting the sale price for the land of $700,000.

The project had stalled in January 2008 as environmental liability for the parcel was disputed. Martin Daley, the project director for New York State Parks and Trails New York, said then that the liability would fall on the buyer, under Canadian law. In the United States, he said, environmental liability falls on the seller.

FORT supporters said that Deputy County Executive Michael Perrin told them the rail trail would not open.

“He’s not the county executive,” McCoy said. FORT volunteers also claimed that Public Works Commissioner Darrell Duncan told them the trail could have no uses.

“No uses until evaluated,” McCoy amended.

FORT volunteers chastised McCoy for “backpedaling,” and told McCoy that they and others like them would do the work or donate engineering services, with no cost to the county. They said that their proposal recently sent to McCoy’s office for the opening of another 2-mile section in New Scotland and Bethlehem included grants to cover the expenses he listed, and they asked him to champion their project.

“Those are the partnerships we want,” McCoy said of the in-kind services and grants suggested.

FORT members said that signing the agreement to open the latest section of the rail trail would relieve the county of liability for using it, because the land conservancy would take over insurance liability.

“That’s what I like,” McCoy said.

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