Berne’s ATV public hearing rescheduled after meeting hall hits capacity

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

People line the walls and occupy every chair at the Berne senior center for Wednesday night’s public hearing on the town’s controversial ATV bill.

BERNE — Berne residents — and even some out-of-towners — arrived in force at the Berne senior center to weigh in on the town board’s controversial bill that would open up many of the town’s roads to use by ATVs and other recreational vehicles. 

So many people showed up, though, that the town board could not allow all attendees into the building, which it said had a maximum capacity of 90 people, and had to fall back on its contingency plan of holding the public hearing at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo school auditorium on Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.

The town had noted on its website several days before the meeting that the hearing would be rescheduled if too many residents showed up. 

Tensions in the room were high enough that even this simple and all but predictable change in plans — intended to ensure that the town board would be able to hear each resident’s concerns — prompted several outbursts from attendees, and discussion as difficult as the hearing itself promises to be. 

“It kind of sounds like bullshit to me,” exclaimed one man after Deputy Supervisor Anita Clayton explained that overfilling the room would be unsafe, and that making certain residents wait outside in the cold (as some already were) would be unfair. 

Some residents objected to holding the meeting on Presidents Day, a federal holiday, to which Clayton, who was running the meeting in Supervisor Dennis Palow’s absence, responded that she was open to finding another date, and told the room to offer an alternative.

“Never,” said one man. 

When Clayton asked if Feb. 20 was “totally off the table,” she received a mixed response from the crowd. 

“Just pick something,” said one person. 

Because the town had already reserved the BKW auditorium for the 20th, Clayton said they were sticking with that. 

Before she adjourned the meeting, Clayton attempted to address “misinformation” that had been sent out in a letter by a contingent of residents opposed to the law, including Berne’s former supervisor Kevin Crosier, a Democrat, and which had been received twice by some residents. (Crosier told The Enterprise the second mailing was a mistake on the vendor’s part.)

However, aside from an incorrect email address given for the town clerk, and a meeting time that was at one point incorrect — the actual time for the meeting kept being changed after it was first announced and, in the end, the hearing was scheduled to take place at the time stated in the letter — there is no misinformation in the letter but there is forceful, debatable speculation about negative consequences of the law and what steps residents would have to take to protect their properties. 

“This law has no plan to deal with parking,” part of the letter states, exemplifying the rest in tone and style. “We will have trucks and trailers from all around NY parked unsafely and on the sides of the roads next to our properties — even though parking on town roads is illegal.” 

In trying to combat misinformation, as Clayton described it, the town board furnished some of its own when Clayton and Councilman Leo Vane seemingly criticized the residents who showed up to the public hearing for not making their voices heard at earlier meetings, when the law had not yet been drafted but was discussed more casually by the board. 

Clayton and Vane each said, falsely, that “no one” had shown up for these discussions, with Vane making an exception for members of the Hilltown Riders, the organization that would handle registration of ATV riders using town roads if the law is passed.

In fact, several residents had shown up at the town board’s January meeting, where the law was formally introduced but not yet released, to express their concerns. 

While many of their questions were addressed by town officials at that meeting, Palow repeatedly and with increasing impatience said that the public hearing would be the most appropriate time to approach the board since by that point the law would be made available for review. He also criticized those residents for not showing up at earlier meetings. 

Another Berne resident, Tim Lippert, noted at Wednesday’s meeting that he had voiced concern about the law at a meeting held last year — attended by The Enterprise — at which it was briefly discussed. 

Still, Clayton reassured attendees that the board was interested in their input and that the board would take feedback into account. She implored residents to maintain their civility both in person and online, where discussion has been particularly fierce. 

“We expect input, we value your input, we are really excited that there are so many new faces and people in attendance here this evening,” said Vane. “We thank you all for coming … We look forward to everyone coming back on the 20th so that everyone can speak to this issue.”

More Hilltowns News

  • The Rensselaerville Post Office is expected to move to another location within the 12147 ZIP code, according to a United States Postal Service flier, and the public is invited to submit comments on the proposal by mail. 

  • Determining the median income of the Rensselaerville water district will potentially make the district eligible for more funding for district improvement projects, since it’s believed that the water district may have a lower median income than the town overall.

  • Anthony Esposito, who lost his house along State Route 145 in Rensselaerville when an SUV crashed into it, setting it on fire, said he had made several requests for guide rails because he had long been concerned about cars coming off the road. The New York State Department of Transportation said that it has no record of any requests.

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