Pownal Select Board hears concerns about ATV use
POWNAL — The Select Board heard feedback from about a half-dozen residents and a proposal for all-terrain vehicle rules at its meeting Thursday night, but made no final decision on a possible ordinance.
The Select Board is expected to continue to discuss the issue and consider creating an ordinance, as the board has recently received a copy of a proposed ordinance drafted by Town Administrator Michael Walker.
Walker said he considered other town ordinances, and also the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, in drafting the proposed ordinance.
"You have people on both sides of this issue," Walker said when reached Friday. "All of those people have to receive due consideration. Taking our time and going through this and getting it correct is more important than [timing]."
Several residents shared their thoughts on local ATV use at the meeting. John Bushee, a town resident, provided information about a proposal by an informal group on ATV riding, which he is part of. They need to make sure all the roads listed in their proposal would work in terms of state requirements, he said.
"We don't have a final on it," he said. "I'd like to come back for another meeting."
Board Chairman Bryan Harris instructed Bushee to get in touch with the town to have that warned for a future meeting agenda.
He said he also wanted to clarify that the group Bushee is part of is a private entity, and not part of the town government.
"This is an information-gathering organization who's attempting to try to organize and propose something," he said. "That's all it is."
The group has over 110 members and is growing, Bushee said.
Bushee provided the board with a proposal Thursday night that suggests adding roads for ATV use, to enable riders to "enjoy peaceful low speed travel" toward accessing state-approved trails, according to the proposal.
Passing, cutting corners and "horsing around" — wheelies, zig-zagging and spinning out on gravel — would not be permitted, according to the proposal.
At Thursday's meeting, Bushee said he felt "pushed aside" when he brought up ATVs at a prior Select Board meeting. He said he felt rushed to put together a proposal.
"We're kind of rushed to get it all done," he said.
In response to Bushee's comments, Walker said that he does not ride ATVs, and is neither for nor against them.
"I'm in no hurry," he said.
Michael Smith, of Bennington Trail Cruisers, also gave the board advice about how to set up an ordinance.
"The key is to try to get things legal," he said, pointing out that of the over 25,000 ATVs in Vermont, only somewhere around 3,000 of them are registered. "Try to do away with the perception that it's the wild west."
Once a legal trail system is established, next comes enforcement. Some communities contract with the sheriff's department, he said.
The idea is to provide access to trails via town roads — not to use town roads as a trail, he said.
An ATV ordinance, if adopted, would replace the town's current ATV regulation, contained in its traffic ordinance. The traffic ordinance was adopted by the prior Select Board on Dec. 27.
Pownal's traffic ordinance prohibits operating a recreational vehicle, including an ATV, on any town or state aid highway in Pownal except on designated open roads.
Those roads are Schenkar Road from the intersection of Old Military Road, Old Military Road from the intersection of Schenkar Road and Old Military Road heading south to the Williamstown, Massachusetts, town line, County Road from the point of intersection with Schenkar Road to the Stamford town line, Cross Roads from the intersection of Maple Grove Road to the intersection of South Stream Road to South Stream Road, according to the ordinance.
The ordinance provides for fines of $15 to $500 for each offense.
A few people in attendance at Thursday's meeting expressed noise and safety concerns with ATV riding.
One woman said she lives in a "wildly active" part of town for ATVs.
"Is there any way riders can be encouraged to show a little more respect and courtesy?" she said.
Bushee replied that is "what we're trying to do."
"Part of what we're doing — the ordinance is to be able to slow them down," he said of the proposal he gave the board. "We've got more discussion we've got to do."
"It's very dangerous," the woman replied. Turning into one's driveway with ATVs approaching can be harrowing.
"You don't know whether you're going to die or get home," she said.
Harris asked Smith about how it works to contract with sheriff's departments for ATV enforcement.
Smith said they're active patrols — it's an hourly fee, and it's not cheap.
"But it's worth it," he said.
Harry "Jamie" Percey Jr., clerk of the board, talked about his experience observing ATV use around town last weekend.
"Everything that I actually got to witness this weekend was just good riding and safe practices," he said. "Unfortunately, we do have bad apples. We as a board are taking this serious."
Bushee said he knows not everyone would be pleased by whatever's decided.
"We don't want people getting hurt," he said.
One woman said she sees the bigger problem as after-dark partying.
"There is an area behind our neighborhood it's really a disaster," she said. "The trails are in terrible shape. I'm not sure how I feel about more use on them."
Smith said the town could put ATV operating hours in an ordinance, if it so chooses.
Bob Jarvis, a member of the board, said he's heard a lot of concerns on both sides of the issue.
"It's all valid concerns," he said. It sounds like coming up with a responsible ordinance that also utilizes in law enforcement would be a win-win, he said.
Harris agreed, saying he thought more enforcement would go a long way toward "calming the situation."
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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