JOHNSTOWN - The state wants to take over Fulton County's longstanding effort to acquire rights-of- way needed to help complete the Rail Trail.
County officials appear to be agreeable to the offer.
"[State officials] believe they can do this a lot quicker than we can," Fulton County Planning Director James Mraz said.
He said the state Department of Transportation indicated it can "maneuver" through federal and state acquisition procedures.
The Board of Supervisors' Buildings and Grounds-Highway Committee this week authorized board Chairman William Waldron to send a letter to DOT. The full board will decide on the resolution Aug. 12. The letter to DOT's Region 2 office permits the state to acquire rights-of-way to help finish the trail project, which began in the early 1990s.
The Rail Trail is a recreational path along the former Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad system. It runs through Gloversville and Johnstown.
Currently, two sections of the trail remain incomplete. The largest is 5.5 miles of trail between Route 349 (Dennie's Crossing) in the town of Johnstown and County Highway 155 in the town of Mayfield. The other section is 1.3 miles of trail between Union Avenue Extension in the city of Johnstown to the Fulton-Montgomery county line.
Mraz said the county has been trying for years to acquire the rights-of-way between Route 349 and County Highway 155.
He said DOT is willing to help in an effort to complete the sections, which could lead to final construction. The state help would include all aspects of rights-of-way acquisition, including appraisal, title and legal work.
Mraz said DOT officials asked him, "Would you be interested in us doing all that work for you?"
The Fulton County Planning Department already is proposing a $1.1 million capital project for 2014 to complete the Rail Trail. The county will seek a grant to pay for 80 percent of the estimated cost of the project. The local share would be 20 percent, or $211,000.
Mraz said of the handful of rights-of-way needed from private property owners, several are willing to sell. He said one owner is also "willing to talk," and the county hasn't heard from another one.
At this week's committee meeting, Stratford Supervisor Robert E. Johnson Jr. asked Mraz if the state intends to invoke eminent domain - the government's right to take private property for public use with payment.
"They certainly have that ability," Mraz said. "I think their intent would be to negotiate first."
He assured Johnson the county will have input on how the state obtains ownership of the rights-of-way.
Mraz said the county may still need to have some survey work done.
He said once DOT establishes final purchase prices for each right-of-way, the rights-of-way would be acquired by the state using $70,000 of the county's remaining grant funds and a 20 percent local share. He said DOT then would transfer ownership of the rights-of-way to the county at no charge.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.