BALLSTON SPA — In recent weeks, a dispute has been simmering between two local mayors regarding the recreational trail project planned for the north side of Geyser Road over the course of many years.
During both village board meetings in April, prompted by comments from the public, Ballston Spa Mayor John Romano voiced his concerns about the trail project. They center mainly on increasing public access to a forested, 75-acre area located between Geyser Road and Rowland Street that supplies the village’s water.
“The whole idea is I don’t want any access” to the watershed land, Mayor Romano said at the April 24 board meeting.
At the April 10 meeting, Romano said a general lack of consideration for the village’s watershed represented a “major error” in the project’s state-mandated environmental review process.
Romano also expressed concerns about the removal of some trees on village property along Geyser Road that will be a necessary part of the trail project. He claims a deadline of March 31 to commence tree removal passed without proper input from the City of Saratoga Springs, whose border ends at the Town of Milton line on Geyser Road.
“There’s really been no communication and no information with respect to the project,” Romano said.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Joanne Yepsen strongly disagreed.
She said a meeting took place in Ballston Spa between herself, other city officials and Romano on March 27, during which the "entire project" was reviewed. Romano acknowledged that meeting but offered no additional comment.*
“This has been going on for 15 years,” Mayor Yepsen said during an interview in her city office. “It’s been vetted with federal and state standards over and over again.”
Yepsen said the city is “not going to cut any trees down” until “the Village of Ballston Spa decides to cooperate.”
The city is preparing letters that will be sent to property owners on Geyser Road, including Ballston Spa, discussing monetary compensation for any parcels of land that will be affected by the trail project.
State officials are “looking at this as a package deal,” Yepsen added. “They have approved it all.” She noted how the trail project is directly related to infrastructure and traffic signal improvements planned for the intersection of Geyser Road and Route 50.
Yepsen said there is “lots of support” for her vision of connecting 23 miles of recreational trails in and around the city, which includes the Geyser Road trail.
Yepsen cited the work of Molly Gagne, president of the city’s Southwest Neighborhood Association (SNA), as one of the main reasons for the growth of that support. The SNA’s members reside primarily in parts of the Geyser Crest neighborhood that are within the city’s borders.
“It’s one of the most popular initiatives that I’ve seen since I’ve taken office as mayor in 2014,” Yepsen said.
“The Geyser Road trail will be a multi-use trail, allowing for both pedestrian and bicycle access,” the SNA explains on its website. “It will be the first link from a neighborhood located within the suburban outskirts to downtown Saratoga Springs.”
Dozens of citizens, though, have signed petitions opposing the project and presented them to city officials. A public hearing was held in January, during which petitioners raised concerns about a recreational trail anywhere near the Grande Industrial Park.
“This segment of roadway is extremely busy and heavily used by tractor trailers and other large commercial vehicles, making it one of the most traveled commercial road segments in the City of Saratoga Springs,” the petitioners wrote to Yepsen and other city officials. “Encouraging bicycle traffic and pedestrians, children and their families on this roadway segment is ill-advised.”
Still, Mayor Yepsen said she is determined to see the Geyser Road trail project through.
“We are reaching the finish line at this point,” Yepsen said. “I’m so excited this is going to happen.”
* [Author's note: All print editions of Saratoga TODAY, and a previous version of this online story, omitted a reference to the March 27 meeting.]