Thetford Selectboard To Vote on ATVs
Thetford — ATVs are currently banned on public roads in Thetford, but that could soon change.
A proposed ordinance that would allow some residents to ride ATVs on both class 3 and 4 town roads will go before Selectboard for a vote on Monday, following several months of debate over their use.
The final draft of the Selectboard’s ordinance would allow senior citizens and people with handicapped license plates to ride ATVs on class 3 and 4 roads, and allow residents who live on class 4 roads to get around on ATVs to maintain their property. No ATV use would be permitted on trails.
If the ordinance passes by a majority of the five-member board, it would mark the first time Thetford has adopted a written ATV policy, according to Selectboard Vice Chairman Tig Tillinghast. As of now, the absence of a policy means ATVs are prohibited on both class 3 and 4 roads, effectively banning their use on public thoroughfares.
“I think the town’s version is pretty close to the no-ATV version,” Tillinghast said.
The town’s proposed ordinance nonetheless is viewed by some as overly restrictive. A petition for an alternate proposal, which has been available for signatures at the Thetford Village Store, would allow ATVs to be used for recreation and extend their operating hours on class 3 and 4 roads to 16 hours daily from the town’s proposed 12 hours daily.
Vermont classifies roads in four categories. Class 1 roads are state routes maintained by the state; class 2 roads are typically main thoroughfares; class 3 roads are other roads maintained by the town year-round, and class 4 roads are roads that are not maintained by the town.
But others in town oppose opening up use of ATVs, citing noise and the effects the vehicles would have on the environment.
“I’m strongly opposed to any ordinance that would allow for an unnecessary increase in traffic and noise,” Lynne O’Hara, who lives on Five Corners Road in Thetford Center, wrote in an email. “We already have a shooting range on our road, which is barely tolerable from a half mile away and intolerable if one is walking close to the range when someone is shooting.”
The difference of opinions — Selectboard Chairman Donn Downey frames it as “conservation versus recreation” — has led to a series of crowded hearings in the past few months since the Selectboard first broached the topic. In late April, nearly 100 people on both sides of the issue packed into Town Hall for a hearing, during which Downey urged residents to find common ground.
“Ninety-nine percent of people were happy with a small core of things,” Tillinghast said.
That small core evolved into the town’s draft ordinance, which Downey said is closer to the town’s current policy of highly restricted use than the broader one proposed by the petition. The alternate ordinance won’t be voted upon, Downey said, and for now is considered “advisory.”
But the debate on ATVs in Thetford may continue, even if the board votes in favor of the town’s draft ordinance. Residents have the right to have a town-wide vote if five percent of the registered voters — about 120 people — sign a petition. That effectively grants residents a veto power over the Selectboard, Tillinghast said.
If the town-wide vote were to overrule the selectboard, then the ordinance reverts to Thetford’s prior policy: No ATVs on class 3 or 4 roads, period. Past that, residents could petition for a special Town Meeting to vote on a more liberal ATV policy, similar to the alternate ordinance circulating around town.
The selectboard ultimately didn’t include recreational use of ATVs to its draft because, overall, the concerns presented — such as noise and effect on the roads — outweighed the reasons cited for allowing it, Downey said.
“The only real compelling argument we heard was, well, ‘We’d like to recreate on our ATVs,’ ” Downey said. “At the end of the day, it just comes down to the Selectboard doing what we think is the best interest of the town at large.
“I think the discussion isn’t going to be finished,” Downey said.
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.