How do you make $351,000 from $1? The answer to that question depends on who you talk to.
In the mid-1990s I learned that Cattaraugus County wanted to divest itself of a parcel of land it had inherited from a railroad company that abandoned it. This rail line property stretched from the Village of Cattaraugus to the City of Salamanca, and today is known as the Pat McGee Trail — but I digress.
I contacted several snowmobile clubs and an equestrian group to meet with me to discuss acquiring the property and turning it into a walking and hiking nature trail, with uses as well for snowmobiles in the winter and horses in the summer. Everyone agreed it was a great idea.
The county was approached and advised that it would turn over the property for $1. However, we had a problem. If we owned the property, we would be subject to taxes and we didn’t have any funds to pay them. Someone in the group suggested we get someone with a 501c3 tax-exempt status to take over the property for us. But who?
Someone else in the group suggested Rick LeFeber, a Cattaraugus resident and person who had a 501c3 tax-exempt organization called the Cattaraugus Local Development Corporation. So we did, and he did, and it was done.
We now owned the property. We, the group, applied for grants for the improvement of the property, rebuilding bridges, removing rail ties, etc. We even sold railroad spikes that were painted and engraved to raise money. We called our new group S.T.A.R.T. — the Southern Tier Association for Rails to Trails.
We had monthly meetings, we built a pavilion and a gazebo at the end of Main Street in the Village of Little Valley. We had a great time. Then a company cut some trees on the trails to clear for electrical lines. Who would dare?
Come to find out it was NYSEG — New York State Electric and Gas Corp. NYSEG thought it had a right-of-way to the property. Wrong. The cutting came to a halt and I scheduled a meeting with them in Buffalo with LeFeber.
We negotiated a settlement that would increase each year depending on the cost of living — money we didn’t know about. Then, I started checking others that crossed the Trail without express permission to do so, and found a great many. Each were contacted and a settlement was reached, providing money for the Trail’s upkeep for years to come.
As with all things, our little group, S.T.A.R.T., dissolved as individuals, the we becoming one. After all, it was owned by LeFeber, and he took control. Soon after that, it became known as the Pat McGee Trail.
In November 2019, as the supervisor for the Town of Salamanca, I received a letter from New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation advising me that it would like to acquire the Pat McGee Trail. I later found out that the acquisition price would be $250,000.
I became incensed at how obscene this was. When I advised the town board, the members became incensed as well and we passed a resolution to not allow the sale of the Pat McGee Trail unless the price was $1. We didn’t mind the state taking over the trail.
I wrote letters to state Sen. George Borrello, Assemblyman Joseph Giglio and Cattaraugus County Legislature Chairman Howard VanRensselaer. I met with the state parks regional director, Jay Bailey, and the assistant regional director, Tom Livak, at our town hall to discuss the sale.
All said it was moving forward, but we didn’t know when it could happen. This was in 2019.
On Jan. 26, LeFeber and the CLDC filed papers with the county affirming sale of the right-of-way to all those who cross the trail. They paid a total of $51,000 to the CLDC, LeFeber’s personal corporation. This sale paves the way for the future sale of the trail itself.
The state claims no money, increased taxes, reduced funds to counties, towns and cities, so how can it pay $250,000 for property that was purchased for $1? If you are as upset as I am, write to everyone you can think of, even make phone calls.
Don’t let this happen.
(Timothy Jackson is the supervisor of Town of Salamanca.)