STONY CREEK — The operators of Stony Creek Ranch Resort told Warren County supervisors last week they had gotten permission from the federal Railroad Administration to operate a “Polar Express” holiday train later this year, but the Railroad Administration said this week that the company’s application was not granted.
While the owners of the ranch and their partners in the rail venture have unveiled some details of their plan, whether Warren County will allow the company to use the rails this year hinges on the ranch paying an unspecified amount of county occupancy tax money county leaders contend the company owes. The past due bill was revealed in correspondence obtained by The Post-Star through a Freedom of Information Law request.
Occupancy tax money comes from a 4 percent room tax that businesses charge guests. The businesses are legally required to forward the money to the county Treasurer’s Office.
County Treasurer Michael Swan said a business’ occupancy tax status is confidential under county and state law. But county officials said the Treasurer’s Office was in the process of putting a lien on the ranch property, a process that would result in a public filing.
The new railroad company has been named Stony Creek & Hudson Ralway, and will not be affiliated with Saratoga & North Creek Railway, the company that bailed earlier this year on its contract to operate on the stretch of rail line between Saratoga Springs and North Creek. Stony Creek Ranch Resort had been a base for SNCR trains last winter, but SNCR is not part of the new venture.
Instead, the owners of the ranch are trying to get a 45-day permit from Warren County and the Railroad Administration to run trains on a section of rail line in Stony Creek and Thurman between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31. The popular Polar Express show would be offered on the train, and ranch co-owner Scott McLean said the rail venture could attract 25,000 people to the region and result in 75 additional jobs, attracting additional themed train trips.
The McLeans first approached county supervisors in July about the idea, but county leaders had not heard any more about the plan until the McLeans attended a meeting last week with a pamphlet outlining their proposal.
County supervisors expressed concern about the months of delay in planning and seeking approvals, and provided the venture’s principals with a list of requirements, such as proof of insurance, federal approval, project timelines and a commitment not to store rail cars on the line. They had not been met as of Friday.
Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the federal Railroad Administration, said there have “been discussions” with Stony Creek & Hudson Railway representatives, but approval had not been granted as of Friday.
A phone message left at the ranch on Thursday was not returned as of Friday afternoon.
Horicon Supervisor Matt Simpson, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors Public Works Committee, which oversees the county rail line, said county officials have not heard from the Railroad Administration about federal approval.
Whether the event can go on for this year’s holiday season depends on whether the owners of Stony Creek Ranch Resort can satisfy supervisors’ concerns.
“The more quickly you can get information to us, the more quickly we can resolve the questions we have,” Warrensburg Supervisor Geraghty told Scott McLean at last week’s meeting.