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Thetford Board OKs ATV Use

Most Residents Appear Satisfied

Thetford — Most of the residents who crammed into Town Hall yesterday evening seemed satisfied with the Selectboard’s approval of an ordinance allowing senior citizens and people with handicapped licenses plates to ride ATVs on class 3 and 4 roads.

The ordinance, which follows several discussions, including a Town Hall meeting in April that drew nearly 100 people, was passed 4-1, with Selectman Mike Pomeroy dissenting. Currently, all ATV use is prohibited on all town roads.

“The default used to be no ATVs,” said resident Chris Levey. “The Selectboard really listened and worked with the people.”

Levey said he lives on a quiet street in Thetford and owns about 30 acres of hay field. Fifteen years ago, someone on an ATV tore up his land, he told the room.

“It’s easy for people to get out there,” he said. “This time, I’m not so worried. I think (the ordinance) sets limits.”

The majority viewed the decision as a fair compromise, but not every one was pleased.

“My feeling is that (the ordinance) is age discriminate,” Howard Stone said, before the board voted. “ATVs are not as destructive as people think.”

He walked away from the meeting displeased, as did his uncle, Doug Stone, who said during the discussion that riding a class 4 road in Vermont is a past-time. “It’s recreation,” he said. “It’s meant to be enjoyed.”

The state classifies roads in four categories. Class 1 roads are state-maintained routes; 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.

Doug Stone left the meeting upset, he said, because he still has to pay taxes to use class 3 roads.

“And now,” he said, “I’m being restricted.”

The approved ordinance allows only seniors, those with licenses indicating they are handicapped and landowners “who attest in writing that their ATV use on town roads is for caretaking of property,” to use the all-terrain vehicles at a maximum speed of 15 mph. First-time offenders who ride without a permit are subject to a $50 fine from the town.

Levey can understand the communal dislike of ATVs. He said people who live close to a class 3 or 4 road have to deal with the noise, and on a hot summer’s day with the windows open the racket from an ATV is “louder than an alarm clock.”

ATV riders are just trying to enjoy the beautiful scenery like everyone but need “to weigh the benefit you get with the loss to others,” he said.

Another resident, Connie Snyder, said she was happy to see the ordinance passed by the board instead of being put to a town vote.

“This deserved to be tried out,” said Snyder, who’s been living in Thetford for 32 years.

A town vote would polarize people and deflate the hard-earned deliberations, she contended.

Since April, Thetford has debated ATV use, and, as Chairman Downey put it during the meeting, a town vote would turn the long-sought after decorum into an argument between “these picket signs versus those picket signs.”

“What this represents is a compromise, not an up-or-down, yes or no, approved or not approved deal,” Snyder said.

Before the vote, board member John Bacon said the language needed to be amended so that the ordinance did not appear “age discriminatory.”

Downey agreed.

“We amend to change the first sentence of section two from ‘ATVs for people’ to ‘Thetford residents and/or landowners,’” Downey said. “Otherwise, this will be signed tonight.”

The ordinance will go into effect in 60 days, Downey said. Dissatisfied residents have a 44-day window to file a petition. If they obtain the signature of 5 percent of the town’s registered voters, they have the right to a town vote on the issue.

“If no one voices a concern during that time, it goes into effect the 45th day,” Downey said.

Heinz Trebitz, 84, said he was pleased with the language of the ordinance but said residents need to be responsible and mindful of the changes.

“You have good people and bad people and others who just don’t care,” Trebitz said. “It depends on the operator now. You’ve got to be careful.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at zpeterson@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

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