Illegal ATV use discussed at public hearing

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(Host) Battle lines were drawn Wednesday in the debate over all terrain vehicles in Vermont. A group met in Montpelier to air opinions about how to regulate ATV use. While there was agreement that unlawful ATV riding is a significant problem, the solutions weren’t as clear.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) It’s illegal to drive an all terrain vehicle anywhere in Vermont, except on your own property or with permission from another landowner. That hasn’t stopped some people from riding ATVs without permission on other people’s land, on state and municipal property and on the roads.

Legislators and members of the Vermont ATV Sportsman’s Association listened Wednesday as law enforcement officials, foresters, conservationists and private landowners complained about renegade ATV riders, sometimes as young as nine or 10 years old. Current state law offers little in the way of punishment for illegal riding. Although the law requires ATVs to be registered, only a fraction are. State Representative Frank Mazur (R-South Burlington) chairs the House Transportation Committee.

(Mazur) “We don’t have much control over them other than registration, and not many people register them. We have 160,000 in the state and we only have around 6,000 or 7,000 registered. I know that there are people in the industry, particularly sportsmen who want to have trails.”

(Zind) Officials with VASA, Vermont’s fledgling ATV Association say all terrain vehicle owners are behaving badly because they have no where to go. They say an organized trail system would give riders a legitimate outlet for their sport. Todd Sheinfeld is one of VASA’s founders. Sheinfeld says the state has ignored the large number of people who use ORVs, or off road vehicles.

(Sheinfeld) “The model that we have here in Vermont is not replicated in any other part of the country. There are 49 other states that have working ORV models that include designated appropriate places to recreate.”

(Zind) A Maine official told the meeting that once his state established over two thousand miles of ATV trails, complaints and enforcement problems dropped off. Maine has a governor’s task force on off-road vehicles. The state also provides grants to encourage trail development and provides insurance to ATV clubs and landowners. ATV proponents say Vermont needs a similar effort.

Not everyone was convinced that ATV riders will stay on designated trails if they are provided. Some stressed the need for improved laws and better enforcement. Others said it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the state and landowners to provide trails for ATVs. Catherine Cerulli lives in Marshfield.

(Cerulli) “If ATV owners know there are no legal places to ride except on their own property, then why didn’t they consider that before they invested the money into the vehicle? There are places they can ride in other states, they just don’t want to go there.”

(Zind) Cerulli says she’s selling her house to move away from the noise created by the ATV’s operating illegally nearby.

Mazur says the meeting at the Statehouse was designed to give legislators a clearer idea on how to approach ATV legislation when lawmakers return in January.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Montpelier.

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