Pownal opens roads to ATVs

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POWNAL -- Starting June 1, all town roads will be open to all-terrain vehicles.

The Select Board voted unanimously Thursday to open the roads to ATV use between June 1 and Sept. 5, which would allow riders to use them on town roads through Labor Day Weekend.

The vehicles must be registered with the state, and the rider must carry liability insurance as well a license. Riders also must wear helmets and be at least 16 years old. All other state regulations apply, and the vehicles are still not allowed on state roads such as Route 7 and Route 346.

Riders can cross those roads, however, at 90 degree angles.

Title 23, Section 3501 of Vermont Statutes defines an ATV as "any non-highway recreational vehicle, except snowmobiles, having no less than two low-pressure tires (10 pounds per square inch, or less) not wider than 60 inches with two-wheel ATVs having permanent, full-time power to both wheels, and having a dry weight of less than 1,700 pounds ..."

Vehicles must have one or more headlights, working rear lights, working brakes, and an efficient muffler.

The board’s decision was made after a brief discussion with Mark Atherton, vice president of the Bennington Trail Conservancy, who was attending the meeting to discuss enforcement regarding ATV use on the few roads that had been open to them. He said the group was going to hire the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department to start patrols. The trail group would pay for the department and be reimbursed by the Vermont All Terrain Vehicle Sportsman’s Association (VASA).

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Board Chairman Nelson Brownell said he’d been asked by residents on some of the roads ATVs were permitted to use about why all town roads weren’t open to the vehicles. He said those residents felt singled out.

Town Constable Albert Lafontaine said he was in favor of opening the roads to ATVs, as it would make enforcement easier. Much of his time, he said, is spent going from one end of town to the other on reports of illegal riders only to find them not there when he arrives.

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Board member Stephen Kauppi said he thinks the new regulation will lead to better riders, as now authorities will be in a position to teach good riding habits, such as safety, courtesy and keeping off private property without permission.

He added that respectful riders may also do some self-enforcement, not wanting the use of town roads taken away because of the bad behavior of others.

Lafontaine said 90 percent of his ATV calls involve vehicles used on private property. With town roads open, that could be avoided, he said. He said enforcement will also be easier, as a lawful person will stop when directed to, and an unlawful rider won’t. Riders may also go slower while on town roads, as they won’t be doing anything illegal.

ATVs are currently are ridden on town roads anyway, just not legally, said Brownell.

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Atherton said he would look into the logistics of having the town roads deemed VASA trails, which would allow the trails group to put up signs and might have the town under its liability insurance. The board decided to discuss that with him next meeting.

Kauppi said the open roads change would be a pilot program, and would be modified as needed if and when problems arose. After September, the board will review how well it has gone overall and make changes if needed.

"I’m very disappointed in the town," said Jim Kocsis, of North Mason Hill Road, in a telephone interview.

He said the board should have held a public hearing before making such a big decision. Kocsis has been vocal in the past over ATVs on his rural road, saying many riders are disrespectful to homeowners when they drive past, owing to noise and the speed of the machines.

In other business Thursday, the board voted to take action on Bartels Lodge after 30 days. Kauppi said the building has sat vacant going on six years and something needs to be done. The board said it would reach out to people with known interest for ideas, but stressed that action must be taken.

The former lodge was sold to the town a number of years ago for $60,000. It has been the site of at least one fire and was exposed to the elements for some time. The town bought it with the intention of making it a town office, but other ideas are being considered. Drawings of design proposals were also commissioned, but the board deemed it had no money to act on any of them.


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