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Greenport will move forward with miniature railroad, despite protests

After months of debate among village residents, the Greenport Board of Trustees voted to move forward with an agreement to construct a miniature railroad in Moore’s Woods at a board meeting Thursday night. 

The village plans to operate the railroad formerly owned by late Greenport resident Frank Field — who ran the miniature train on his property for nearly 30 years — “for the benefit and enjoyment of the public in a manner similar to” the carousel in Mitchell Park, according to Thursday’s agreement. The Rotary Club of Greenport, which spearheaded efforts to establish the railroad, will fund construction of the project and ensure development does not disrupt public use of Moore’s Woods.

The agreement, which is subject to change, notes that the Rotary will retain sole ownership of the equipment and railroad, even though it’s on village-owned property. The Village of Greenport will assume costs for maintenance and operation, in addition to responsibility for obtaining any necessary permits or licenses for the project.

The agreement was approved by a 4-1 vote with Trustee Peter Clarke casting the lone no vote.

The railroad will run at a minimum on weekends between May 1 and Oct. 31, for at least six hours a day. According to the agreement, approximately 1,500 feet of narrow-gauge rail will run partially through and alongside Moore’s Woods, and a storage and maintenance building will be built just north of the nearby skate park and just east of Moore’s Woods. The agreement notes that if enough money has been raised, the structure could include public bathrooms, a workshop to maintain and repair the train, a ticket booth and possible public space.  

Revenue generated by operating the gasoline-powered locomotive will go toward its maintenance and operation. Five percent of anything left over will go toward a reserve fund that maxes out at $5,000, with remaining profits split equally by the village and Rotary on at least an annual basis. The Rotary retains the right to use the railroad for at least two annual fundraising events each year.  

The resolution did not pass without pushback, however. Several Greenport residents argued against the railroad’s location in Moore’s Woods at the board meeting Thursday night, expressing concern for the forest and about nuances in the village’s agreement with the Rotary.

Randy Wade of Greenport outlines her objections to the village board Thursday. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

Randy Wade, who organized a petition against the railroad’s location earlier this summer that garnered 65 signatures, criticized the village for undertaking responsibility for the railroad.  

“What we have here is an experiment,” she said. “Municipalities have not undertaken to operate railroads that I could find. They are run by nonprofits, museums or special interest groups … It’s really not appropriate to experiment in Moore’s Woods.” 

She added that the railroad will restrict access to Moore’s Woods during construction and criticized a clause that sets the initial term of the agreement at 10 years. 

Greenport resident Barbara Davey similarly expressed concern about the railroad as an “experiment.”  

“I wanted to full-throatedly say that I am very enthusiastic about the mini railroad, just not in the woods,” Ms. Davey said. “If it is a failed experiment, as it could be, to say that you will just return the woods to the original condition is disingenuous because you can never replace those trees and the building will still remain.” 

John Saladino, another Greenport resident, spoke in favor of the railroad Thursday night. He argued that the carousel, ice skating rink and basketball courts were all experiments. 

“Is [the railroad] a failed experiment? How can you assume that it’s going to fail?” he said, adding that trees can be replanted. 

A SEQRA resolution passed Thursday notes that the railroad does not pose a safety hazard and will not have a significant negative impact on the environment, traffic or noise levels. It emphasizes that the railroad will not cause “a substantial adverse change” in air and water quality, remove or destroy large quantities of nearby flora and fauna, nor cause a substantial increase in solid waste or the potential for erosion, flooding, leaching or drainage.