Trail development is tough work. No one ever said it was easy, but there are some hurdles that are so frustratingly difficult to overcome that they can stop a project dead in its tracks even when there’s overwhelming agreement on the value of a trail project. One such hurdle, and a common one, is coming to an agreement with a utility company for use of a corridor.
The Port Jefferson Wading River trail is a proposed multi-use trail along 13-miles of Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) right of way. Suffolk County and LIPA had worked out a 25-year lease agreement and liability coverage to allow the county to construct and maintain the trail and nearly $10 million dollars in Federal Funding was secured for the project. Things were looking good until LIPA demanded there be a reversionary clause in the lease that allowed the utility to break the lease at any time they felt it was necessary.
A deadlock ensued. Federal law prohibits funding the project with reversionary clauses in the lease agreement – and for good reason. What taxpayer would be pleased to hear a utility revoked use of a trail after a $10 million dollars was spent to build the trail? The Federal Highway Administration is prohibited by law from paying for projects not guaranteed to remain in place for at least 20 years.
After months of negotiations the project seemed doomed until pressure by the county, elected officials, and inquiries by the Long Island newspaper Newsday, seemed to have broken the logjam, if even just a little. LIPA has agreed to re-open negotiations with the county and Federal Highways. The Port Jefferson to Wading River Trail could finally be a reality.
This type of impasse is not uncommon, sadly. There are several trail projects around the state of NY in limbo over Utility lease deadlocks. The Kinderhook – Stockport – Stuyvesant trail in Columbia county, and the Ramapo River Greenway trail in Rockland County are two such examples. Perhaps the Port Jefferson – Wading River trail success will translate into future successful negotiations for these trails, too.