After 90 minutes of public comment by impassioned partisans on each side of the ATV issue, the Johnsburg Town Board voted 4-1 Tuesday, Aug. 21 against a proposed law that would have been a preliminary step to allowing all-terrain vehicles on certain town roads.
About 80 people gathered at Tannery Pond Community Center to voice their opinions. Several of them came from ATV clubs from outside the Johnsburg area. The crowd seemed fairly evenly split between those that supported the notion of allowing ATVs on public roads and those opposed.
Rusty Heath, an official from a Vermont-based ATV association that represents 22 individual clubs said that allowing ATVs on town roads could draw riders from outside the area to the town and be an economic boost.
“There’s plenty of revenue to go around,” he said.
But Irene Kohn, president of the Garnet Hill Homeowners Association that represents 100 homeowners in North River said her group opposed the plan.
“We don’t want to see Johnsburg transformed into an ATV mecca,” Kohn said, citing concerns about liability to the town and a potential negative impact on the environment.
Resident Lyle Dye said that ATVs have created a “catastrophic” safety issue on his road by tearing it up to the point that an ambulance or other rescue vehicle would have a hard time getting through.
Ann Morse, a resident of The Glen, questioned whether the letters and emails the town received in favor of the proposal came from town residents or from individuals living outside the area.
“You’re hearing from a lot of people who don’t live here and who don’t pay taxes here,” Morse said. “I hope you’ll take that into account.”
But not all of those in favor of the proposal were from out of the area. Hawk Millington who lives on Bird Pond Road said that the rights of local riders need to be considered.
“I don’t see where we should be told we can’t do it when we pay taxes too,” Millington said.
Town resident Keitan Millington said that ATVs are an “integral part” of his family’s life, something that he enjoys doing with his wife and children for hunting and fishing and even picking berries. Allowing ATVs on town roads would only enhance that pleasure, he said.
Amy Cleveland, a 43-year resident of the town and an ATV rider echoed Millington’s sentiments.
“I don’t like to feel like I’m being treated like a criminal for doing something I enjoy,” Cleveland said.
But others like town resident Judith Harper wondered how the law would be administered.
“The enforcement issue is of great concern to me,” Harper said. “Is the sheriff going to enforce what you’re proposing?”
Resident Paul Heid argued that many of the concerns expressed by opponents to the law were about riders who were acting illegally. Heid said that adopting the law would bring some order to the situation and make it easier to rein in riders who were breaking the law.
“We’re trying to make it better controlled,” Heid said.
Ultimately the decision came down to the five members of the town board.
Councilman Peter Olesheski proposed the law and was an ardent and vocal supporter of allowing ATVs on town roads. He said regardless of how the vote turned out, he would continue to advocate on behalf of ATV riders and look for avenues to provide a more coherent trail system in Johnsburg.
Supervisor Ron Vanselow said that he wasn’t ready to support the law because no one had come forward and shown him a specific location where use of a town road was needed to connect two existing trails.
“No one is stepping forward to say we need this for my land,” Vanselow said.
Additionally, Vanselow said, he was concerned there would be confusion if the board approved the law. Some might think that the town was allowing ATVs on all town roads, Vanselow cautioned.
Councilman Gene Arsenault said he was opposed to the law because of the potential for damage to town roads and the expense to taxpayers.
“I don’t believe we want to open the roads,” Arsenault said. “…It opens a host of issues that we can’t deal with.”
Councilman Arnold Stevens said he is an ATV rider and has been for 25 years. He rides on two sets of trails but he trailers his ATV and tows it between trails, he said.
“Just because I bought an ATV 25 years ago, I don’t think the town owes me the right to ride my machine on town roads,” Stevens said.
Councilwoman Katie Nightingale said she thought there were still too many questions about the proposal and expressed concern that many still don’t fully understand what’s being proposed.
“I’m concerned people don’t understand that they’d have to open their private lands to the public,” Nightingale said. “We’d be opening a can of worms.”
When Vanselow called the vote, Arsenault, Stevens, Nightingale and Vanselow voted “no” leaving Olesheski as the lone “yes” vote and the proposal failed.
The Johnsburg Town Board meets next on Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. at the Wevertown Community Center.