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Paris rethinks ATV access
PARIS — An ordinance governing ATV use on town roads is in the works, after a 4-1 vote of the Board of Selectmen on Monday.
The board also agreed to seek legal advice on whether the board has the power to prevent ATVs from traveling on the extreme right of public ways.
The decisions are the latest that impact an ongoing struggle between ATV enthusiasts who want to connect trail systems by using town roads, and homeowners who object to the noise created by ATV traffic near their residences.
Several of the two dozen citizens in attendance spoke in favor of, or against, such ATV usage.
After a sometimes-heated discussion, the board voted to direct the Policy and Procedures committee to draft an ordinance for review.
Selectwoman Jean Smart said that the town needs to find a long-term solution that will address not just Parsons Road, the epicenter of the disagreement, but the entire town.
"We have got to find ways ... through which we can live together amicably without killing each other, and hating each other, back and forth," said Smart.
She noted that other towns have set up criteria for ATV usage on town roads based on factors such as house density and speed limits.
Currently, state law says that ATVs can travel on the extreme right of public roads under certain conditions, designed to ensure that ATVs use only limited sections of roads necessary to connect trailheads.
The town can grant extended usage of roads on a case-by-case basis, and officials disagree on whether a town can also ban ATV use on certain roads altogether, and in what circumstances it might be able to do so.
The Board of Selectmen voted, by a 4-1 margin, to direct the policy and procedures committee to draft an ordinance governing ATV usage on town roads. When completed, the ordinance would be subject to review by the board, after which it would be presented to voters for a public vote.
Part of the process of drafting the ordinance would involve consulting the Maine Municipal Association (MMA) for advice.
Selectman Ted Kurtz, who has consistently supported the ATV enthusiasts during the town's consideration of the issue, was the sole opposing vote.
"There is nothing on the table for us ... The board is not in the position of getting legal opinions for people in town that might happen to want the legal opinions when there's nothing before us," said Kurtz.
Selectman Lloyd Herrick disagreed.
"I don't think the issue is going away," said Herrick. "... [I support] the opportunity to get a legal opinion not for an individual, but for us as a board to have some kind of direction."
At the end of the meeting, during the item on the agenda reserved for selectman concerns and requests, the board revisited the topic at the request of Smart.
At this time, board members decided to submit a separate question to the MMA asking whether selectmen can rescind the authority granted to ATV riders under state law to use up to 500 yards of a road.
The decision to submit the letter was a compromise suggested by Ray Glover, as Smart asked her fellow selectmen to vote in favor of writing a letter to the ATV club stating that no ATVs would be allowed on Parsons Road, whatsoever.
"I think we need to make it absolutely clear to the ATV folks that they do not have permission to use any portion of Parsons Road or East Oxford Road," said Smart, "and we do have a right to rescind that right."
Kurtz said that such a letter would amount to "foolishness," and stated that the issue of enforcing limits on ATV traffic on the road was "a police problem ... not a selectboard problem."
The motion by Smart was initially seconded by Herrick, but he later withdrew his second, killing the motion.
"Before this board is more satisfied with what we're dealing with I don't want to create in this town another opportunity for what might be unnecessary litigation," said Herrick.
"That's what I'm fearing," said Chair Ray Glover. "That's what I'm fearful of."
Glover said that he felt that writing a letter taking that position would lead to a lawsuit from ATV enthusiasts.
"Are you prepared to defend a lawsuit based on your opinion given here tonight?" Glover asked Smart. "I'm not that convinced that we have that solid a position and at a minimum I would suggest that we go to MMA and get an opinion on that."
Smart said that she felt that a lawsuit would not happen.
"I don't think the ATV club will want to spend the money to sue us," said Smart. "... They're smart enough to realize that they don't need the bad publicity that would come from suing us."
Kurtz said that the matter should be decided without taking the threat of a lawsuit into consideration.
"The suggestion that we're going to do something based on whether or not we're going to get sued, that's abhorrent to me," said Kurtz.
The ATV club has announced plans to rework its trail system so that an unspecified portion of Parsons Road would be used. Jim and Paula Hakala, who have been the most vocal of the complaining homeowners, would like to know whether the planned path will take ATV riders past their home.
Mark Stearns of the Xtra Mile ATV Club (XMAC) declined to identify the planned path.
"At this point in time, we don't know the exact location down to the foot, so I would hate to make a comment," said Stearns. "... We will be within the law. We're pretty sure that everybody should be content with it, and on June first, the road will open."
Glover praised the club for continuing to work to find alternate paths.
"I applaud you for your efforts," he said. "I really do."
Franca Ainsworth, a member of the town's planning board, said that she felt that the majority of the town opposed ATV traffic.
"I think that you're just assuming that everybody in this town is on your side," she said. "Well, maybe a few people that have the machine maybe, but I don't think the majority of our town is all gung ho."
XMAC members have consistently claimed that a majority of residents are supportive of the club's efforts.
The next meeting of the Paris Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Monday, March 28.