Heritage Trail on Track After Committee Decision

August 26, 2015 Last Updated: August 26, 2015

GOSHEN—The long-awaited extension of the Heritage Trail from Goshen to Middletown took an important step forward the evening of Aug. 24. The County Legislature’s Physical Service’s Committee named the County as the lead agency for the environmental review process, with the City of Middletown remaining an involved agency due to its ownership of a significant portion of the trail.

Once the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process is completed, the county will begin to tackle the funding for the extension.

The estimate for the cost of the 10-mile extension recently jumped from $10 million to $12 million, which Parks and Rec Commissioner, Rich Rose, explained was because of “contingency” factors.

The higher estimate allows for another two inches of asphalt and a thicker base to be put down, as well as higher asphalt prices in the future.

“Paving prices are very good [now], but when we go to do this in ’16 and ’17, paving prices may not be as good, so we want to make sure money is available to do that,” Rose said.

It is unclear whether the County will be responsible for clearing the trail in the winter, but in the event that it does, and heavy equipment will need to be used on the trail, the extra thickness would extend the trail’s life.

The County has applied, but not received approval, for federal and state funding for the extension: 80 percent from the federal government and 10 percent from the state. That would leave 10 percent for the County to fund, which is about $1.2 million at the current estimate.

According to the Environmental Assessment Forms (EAF), the work will be done over 9 continuous months, however Rose said the county would consider phasing the funding over a number of years.

“My charge to the consultants was, essentially, “Look, give us a price that is going to be the price and it could be phased over the course of multiple years,'” he said.

Because the county would have to front all the money, it would make it easier, and possibly more attractive to the legislature, to approve.

County Executive, Steve Neuhaus, would prefer to have it all done at once, said his spokesman, Justin Rodriguez, in an email. However Neuhaus wouldn’t rule out phasing the project over several years if necessary, Rodriguez said.

At the committee meeting, Neuhaus suggested private sector funding to offset the county’s portion of the cost, which he is confident he could get.

“I’ve had very active conversations with a couple of large companies that want to help sponsor this,” he said, reminding the committee that parts of the existing trail are sponsored.

“I think we’d all have no problem if people want to put the money up, [and] have a little post with the company’s name on there,” he said.

He thinks people would use the trail to get to work, which would give companies further incentive to support the extension.

Rose shared that the County had applied for two other grants: $2 million dollars from the New York State Community and Home Renewal’s Urban Initiative, and $700,000 through the New York State Consolidated Funding Application (CFA). Both of those are contingent on the budget, he said.

Other funding ideas presented included approaching the Industrial Development Agency (IDA), which has the power to lower or exempt a project from taxes if it sees it in the economic interest of the community.

“One of the caveats in order to sign contracts … with the IDA, is tourism,” Neuhaus said. “If people don’t think extending this Heritage Trail through Goshen and through Middletown is not tourism, then I don’t know what is.”

The Heritage Trail extension is currently sectioned into three parts: from Goshen to Hartley Road, Hartley Road to Middletown, and Middletown to Howells. The extension would almost double the current trail length, which runs 11.5 miles from Monroe to Goshen along the old Erie Railroad track.

Other Developments

The County is in the process of hammering out an intermunicipal agreement with the City of Middletown over the part of the trail that the city owns, Rose reported.

“I think every question starts with ‘Who’s gonna..?’ Who’s going to mow, who’s going to maintain, who’s going to police,” Rose said. “Those are a lot of the points that need to be addressed.”

Middletown Mayor, Joseph DeStefano, was not sure when it would be completed, but according to his assistant, things were going smoothly.

Going further into the future, Barry Cheney, the chairman of the Physical Services committee and a representative of the Warwick and Tuxedo area, said he had been in contact with the mayor of Harriman about connecting the eastern portion of the Heritage Trail to the Metro North train station there.

“From my standpoint on the discussions, there was very little pushback on Harriman’s part.” Cheney said. “They seem to be very willing to embrace it with open arms.”

He thinks it will bring more people up from the city, and with it, their dollars.

“If we’re able to connect the eastern end of the trail in Monroe with the Harriman train station, that opens up a lot more possibilities in terms or tourism and people coming out of the cities on weekends,” he said.

Rose said that the land past Monroe is not owned by the County and if at some point the county wanted to pursue this, they would have to talk with Norfolk Southern Railway to get permission.

During the meeting, the committee also approved giving the County Executive the ability to enter into negotiations with a realty company in Monroe that wants to build an access road between 17M and the South Orange Family YMCA that crosses the Heritage Trail.

The committee agreed under the conditions that the company, Ali Pres Realty, LLC, be responsible for all the construction and maintenance costs, and that if the access ever be used for anything but an entrance or exit to the YMCA, the contract would be rescinded.

Reactions

The room of the committee meeting was so packed with advocates, local politicians, and county legislators that people had to stand in the hall.

Elizabeth Alboher, spokesperson for the Middletown Heritage Trail Advocates, attended the meeting. Afterward, she said she felt very positive about the meeting

“I really feel now that there is some real hope at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Jerry Kleiner, an advocate for the extension of the trail and an alderman in Middletown, said he thought it was a positive move forward.

“I think the issues that made this take so long to get to this point have pretty much been resolved and it’s on a clearer schedule, but of course it all depends now on the funding,” he said.

To contact this reporter, email holly.kellum@epochtimes.com