Thetford Debates Giving ATV Riders Access
Thetford — After listening to nearly two hours of public comment last night on a proposed ordinance allowing ATV use on class 3 and 4 roads, the Selectboard agreed to meet again Monday and incorporate some of the revisions recommended by the public.
But the board did not definitely decide whether it would vote on the controversial ordinance or send it to a town-wide vote.
Board member Mike Pomeroy predicted that if they pass an ordinance, those who oppose it would be able to gather enough signatures to bring it to a town vote.
“There is not enough common ground,” Pomeroy said, referring to an attempt by board chairman Donn Downey to see if there are some parts of the ordinance that everyone could agree upon.
Close to 100 people crammed into the Thetford town hall last night to weigh in on the proposal. Though opinions ran strong on both sides, the discussion remained respectful. Some were clearly opposed, others in full support, while a few seemed to want to get something passed that would please everyone. The one part of the ordinance that could lead to a successful outcome is limiting the number of class 3 and 4 roads where ATVs would be permitted. As it written now, all such roads are included.
At the conclusion of the meeting, one woman said a lot of the disagreement could be alleviated if a map is presented indicating the roads ATV owners want to use. ATV owner Tony Maxwell made that point as well.
“We are looking for a few roads,” said Maxwell. “Not the whole town of Thetford. Give us an inch, not a mile.”
Currently, ATVs are banned from class 3 and 4 roads. The issue came before the board because an elderly property owner wanted to have access to land he owns but does not live on.
Throughout the evening, opponents registered concerns about noise, safety and enforcement for those who violate the ordinance, which includes speed limits, hours, and licensing requirements.
Cindy Perry said that allowing ATV riders to access land would only increase the problems residents already face with parties, underage drinking and unlawful camp fires.
At the opening of the meeting, board chairman Donn Downey said the board has “struggled” over the ATV issue.
“We have had a lot of respectful dialogue the last few meetings and want to use this session as an opportunity to hear what others are saying,” Downey said.
On the board behind him was a list of what each side cited as their reasons for supporting or opposing the ordinance.
Backers say it will allow for better class 4 road maintenance, access to land for recreation, especially seniors and handicapped individuals. Opponents, in addition to noise and enforcement, worried about hurting property values, town liability, and road damage.
Downey, hoping to strike a balance, added a third category: common ground — proposing shorter hours, a trial period, designating only some roads for use and adding an age restriction.
It was also pointed out that state law allows ATVs to access land for agriculture and forestry. That, said some, should be sufficient.
“I think if you did an ordinance and took out recreation, it would be terrific,” said one resident, who declined to give her name.
Others, like Carolyn Hack, said some would take the permission to access class 3 and 4 roads as a way to open up trails on private property by removing downed trees.
Maxwell, however, reminded the crowd that the ordinance has nothing to do with ATV use on private land.
“We don’t want to ride on your private property and tear it up,” said Maxwell.
A lot of questions went unanswered and one resident suggested the board conduct an analysis and report to the public on the cost of maintaining the roads, police coverage and what the experience of other towns has been, though the board said West Fairlee and Vershire said they have ordinances that work well.
On the issue of trash and parties, landowner Kenneth Gulsuk, who is not a resident, said he allows ATVs on his property and never has a problem.
“They do a very good job policing,” said Gulsuk. “They pick up their trash. I can’t say enough nice things. I have more trouble with hikers.”
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.