We treasure peace and natural beauty, oppose ATV law

To the Editor:
These are the comments we are submitting to the Berne Town Board in response to proposed Local Law #1 to allow the use of limited-use vehicles and all-terrain vehicles on town roads  [“Some Berne residents question ATV bill, public hearing set for February,” The Altamont Enterprise, Jan. 13, 2023].

We are opposed to this law because it will result in a drastic change to our country community.  Most residents — be they those who moved more recently to the area or those whose families have lived here for generations — treasure its peace and natural beauty. 

We partake in activities such as walking, gardening, swimming, wildlife observation, picnicking, farming, hunting, horseback riding, and bird watching. Allowing LUV/ATVs on our local roads will be in direct conflict to these activities as well as to our ability to simply enjoy the environment in and around our homes.

We do not speak from inexperience. Over the years we have lived on Gifford Hollow Road, we have experienced the trespass of ATVers on our land and the reckless use of them on our road.

An example of this was last summer when two women were riding two ATVs — each on opposite sides of the road — one had a very small child on her lap. A driver coming from either direction would have been hard pressed to avoid collision with one of these vehicles with potentially disastrous consequences.

We have also observed ATVers illegally driving on Partridge Run trails on which the state explicitly prohibits the use of motorized vehicles with the exception of snowmobiles.

Helene has spent hours each year picking up trash flung out of car windows on our roads. Where will all the users of ATVs put their garbage? In fact, what services are there to support these users — restrooms, food establishments?

It is quite obvious that law enforcement will not be able to police this use — not exactly a priority in addition to the fact that, by the time a call is placed and responded to, the riders will be long gone. And how will our already strained emergency services be ready to address the foreseeable exponential rise in accidents?

Helene is a horsewoman and asked the town three years ago to place a sign on the road to alert drivers to the presence of riders and horses after Gifford Hollow Road was resurfaced, making it more amenable to speeding vehicles. The former supervisor agreed to place such a sign on the road, but this never happened.  We can’t imagine the nerve-wracking experience that will result from the ever presence of ATVers for riders and their mounts.

We understand that in Lewis County which adopted a similar approach to ATV/OHV [all-terrain vehicle/off-highway vehicle] use, the county board of legislators had to hire private security at a cost of $90,000 for only five months in 2022 in order to protect private property on or near ATV trails. 

The Berne Town Board seems to think that this law will bring income to the town, but we question what study has indicated this to be the case. It would seem rather that the fees the town expects to collect and the small amount of additional sales in the way of sandwiches, soda, or pizza will be vastly offset by road damage, trash, noise, trespass, decrease in property values, enforcement costs, and the deterrence of other visitors to our town such as hunters, walkers, bicyclists, and equestrians.

The limited research we have done on the legality of the town’s action indicates that this is wholly illegal.  New York’s Vehicle & Traffic Law permits towns to designate local roads for ATV use when there is no other way to gain access to a designated trail system. There is no such trail system in Berne or in any adjacent town.

And, the town has failed to subject this proposal to any review pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act. In other areas of the state where an ATV system has been established, it was subjected to extensive environmental review addressing multiple potential environmental impacts.

And, similarly, where towns have failed to do this review in designating local town roads for ATV use to connect to these trail systems, the courts have struck down these laws.

Please don’t require the residents of this town to challenge this law in court. This will only mean more scarce resources of the town used in a frivolous manner.

We urge you to reconsider.

Helene G. Goldberger

Paul J. Baitsholts


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