Heated crowd discusses ATV regulations, possible ordinance
POWNAL — Confusion, disorder and high emotions reigned at a public meeting on regulating all-terrain vehicles Thursday night, as a standing-room-only crowd discussed enforcement, regulation and rider etiquette.
The meeting at the Pownal Center Firehouse started with a clarification about its purpose. As residents began talking about a draft ordinance put forward by resident John Bushee, Select Board member Marlena Pellon explained that the board called the special meeting to hear from the public about their views on an ATV ordinance in general. Also attending were board members Elizabeth Rowe and Harry Percey Jr.
"We are not here to talk about the ordinance," Pellon said.
Percey said that people have reached out to the Select Board about problem with ATV noise and late-night riding. "We're trying to do our due diligence in gathering information," he said. "This isn't a one-sided thing. We're going to take everybody's concerns in. That's why we're here today."
Nevertheless, much of the the 90-minute meeting revolved around the language in Bushee's proposal, which had been posted on the town's website, and the copies of amendments he handed out at the start of the meeting.
Given three minutes to speak, audience members were often interrupted with questions or comments.
"It seems like what he prepared was — he asked for the world," one man said of the proposal. "He asked for everything you could possibly put in there."
Others spoke in favor of ATVs and the work Bushee had been doing.
"We're trying to look at the whole picture," said one man. "What we're trying to do here is to make a way for us to ride our ATVs legally in a way that can be enforced, that can be managed in a way that the town feels is the right way to do. It baffles my mind why everybody has such a problem with it."
"I do think the cart has been placed before the horse" with the dissemination of the draft ordinance, said one man, who identified himself as a part-time resident. He said he'd like to see healthy public discussion on the issue, starting with where the ATV trails are.
Bushee spent about 10 minutes at the beginning of the meeting describing the work he had done and the ordinance he had put together.
The ordinance would designate routes for ATVs and utility vehicles, or UTVs, but also allow residents living on undesignated roads to use ATVs on the road "to get to a designated road by the straightest path possible," according to the ordinance.
The ordinance lists 21 designated routes for ATV/UTV use, including parts of Ladd Road, North Mason Hill Road, Niles School Road and Barber Pond Road.
Currently, Pownal's traffic ordinance prohibits operating a recreational vehicle, including an ATV, on any town or state aid highway in Pownal except on designated portions of Schankar, Old Military, County and Cross roads.
Violations are punishable by not less than $15 or more than $500 for each offense.
"We want to get people legal," said Bushee. "We want to try to prevent people racing down the road. We don't want any accidents. What we want is for people to be able to go and ride and present themselves in an orderly fashion."
One woman, who owns horses, said she was concerned about the impact of ATVs on her herd.
"ATV versus horse and rider — who's going to win that battle?" she said.
Another woman, who bought her house in town in 1971, said the land behind her is private property, but people ride up there all the time. Pellon, who said grew up riding ATVs, also voiced concern as a private citizen, saying she often sees ATV operators riding on her property without her permission. "Almost every weekend, it happens," she said.
Bushee, who responded to comments and questions throughout the meeting, replied that they are not asking to ride across people's land. If people are allowed to ride on the roads, Bushee said, they would also probably have no reason to go through private property.
Several residents commented on other issues, especially safety and noise.
"ATV riders have abused their privilege for so long," one man said. "People get to hate the riders."
One woman thanked the "good, cautious, careful, considerate" riders, to a round of applause. But, she added, she feels the town is headed towards a more active, insufficiently patrolled and dangerous situation.
"I can't tell you how many times I have almost been slammed into," she said. "I know the good riders try to enforce the bad. I question the wisdom of adding a ton more people to this."
Besides noise and safety issues, the conversation largely focused on how Bushee's proposed ordinance would be enforced.
"I'm asking — what's different about your proposal?" one woman asked. "You're saying, you will police it. I would love to see that. I think that's unrealistic."
Another woman said she thought there would be trouble if individuals start enforcing laws, referencing a section of Bushee's ordinance that states an ATV club would pay for police in trail areas in addition to the town's current law enforcement, and the ordinance would be enforced by law enforcement, town official or club members.
Resident Jim Kocsis questioned whether the ordinance could be enforced.
"Something to the extreme is being thrown down our throats," he said of the ordinance. "Prove to me now how you can enforce it. You've got to prove to me before you can throw something this drastic down my throat."
One woman offered a different point of view. "What I'm hearing from you guys is that you want accountability," she said. "From what I just read in this [draft ordinance], that's what it's offering. ATVs are going to be registered and insured. Plus, there's going to be more enforcement. We're offering you more."
Some voiced concerns about increased traffic in town if such an ordinance passes, with riders from neighboring states possibly coming to use ATVs in Pownal.
A resident of Burrington Road worried that the town will become a destination for ATV riders, and asked how many hours per week the town has police protection. Town Administrator Michael Walker replied that starting July 1, the town has 40 hours of patrol by the sheriff's department, and if they're not on, when a person calls 911 they get the state police.
Forty hours of protection isn't enough for ATV enforcement, one woman said.
"You're going to have all these people coming in from three different states," she said.
"You believe that?" another man called out. "That's a crock. You got a bunch of Democrats up there."
After the man's comments, the room devolved into a period of relative chaos, with several angry audience members saying the man's statements were uncalled for, along with multiple calls for order.
Multiple audience members also said they were confused about exactly what land would be open for ATVs.
"I'd love to see a map," one woman said. "I'd like to see a map of what's open and what [you would] like to open, and how you're going to do it, I guess, moving forward."
Several audience members also expressed dissatisfaction with conduct during the meeting.
"I can actually see from standing up here an actual divide in the room," said resident Donna Lauzon. "And it's really sad."
Lauzon said that her sister was rescued by someone on an ATV during Hurricane Irene.
"I think there can be some compromise," she said. "It sure as hell would make for a better community."
"I hate a division, folks," said one person. "And I hate to see name-calling. We have to get everybody together. Together we can set up some solutions to this."
One man called the meeting the first one — and, he said, they obviously need many more.
"I would just like everybody to know this is a process," said one woman, the last audience member to speak. "The more input we have, the more we can refine things. We get emotional because [it's] where we live."
Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.
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