Colebrook News and Sentinel
Having heard from residents at a two-hour public hearing Friday night, the Stewartstown selectmen on Monday voted 2-1 to open several portions of town and state roads for use by ATVs.
Selectmen Allen Coates and James Gilbert voted their approval while Hasen Burns opposed, opening the following areas to ATV traffic: Diamond Pond Road from the Willard Nugent boat launch to the end of the state portion of Diamond Pond Road; Creampoke Road to the junction of North Hill Road; then North Hill Road to Bear Rock Road, and Bear Rock Road from the end of the state portion to Noyes Road. State roads included in the measure are Bear Rock Road from Route 145 to the end of the state portion of Bear Rock Road, and Diamond Pond Road from Heath Road to the Colebrook Town Line.
The selectmen made their decision after about 10 minutes of discussion that centered on the section of Diamond Pond Road terminating at the Nugent boat launch. Stewartstown property owner Lloyd Drew spoke to his objections for the opening of this approximately 700 foot section of Class V roadway during the Friday evening hearing, and at the Monday meeting the selectmen said they had heard from Mr. Drew's attorney.
Mr. Burns asked if that particular portion of roadway could be considered separately; however, at Friday night's hearing, the board had stated it would make an all-or-nothing consideration. Those attending the hearing had been advised that anyone wishing to add or delete any roadways for ATV travel in Stewartstown could attempt to do so by bringing a properly documented petition for an article to be placed on the town warrant at next year's town meeting.
Friday night's public hearing drew about 50 Stewartstown residents, property owners and businesspeople, along with Metallak ATV Club president Craig Washburn and North Country OHRV Coalition president Harry Brown and was held at the Stewartstown Community School. A standing straw poll at the conclusion of the hearing indicated that those in attendance favored the selectboard's proposal by a 5-1 margin.
The selectmen spent nearly two hours listening to a variety of opinions, and Mr. Coates advised the assembly that no binding decision would be made that night; rather, the meeting had been called because the selectmen desired to hear as many opinions as possible before deciding the issue. "We will base our final decision on what appears to be a majority feeling about what to do with these roads," said Mr. Coates.
To those who objected to the selectmen being the sole body to decide the issue, Mr. Burns replied, "Every registered voter can bring a properly documented petition to have anything from no ATV use to opening all roads be put on the town warrant at next spring's town meeting, but for now the selectmen have the power to initiate an action."
During the course of the hearing people offered a wide range of options, to include having no public roads open for ATV use, agreement with the selectmen's proposal, and opening all town roads for use by off-road vehicles. Enforcement of speed limits and monitoring of other bad behavior by ATV operators was a recurring theme throughout the course of the evening. Nancy Dodge expressed this theme very early on, saying, "I'm concerned about who is going to enforce speed limits and other behavior." Peggy Moon said she is, "categorically opposed" to opening town roads to ATV traffic because, "none of us have any way to enforce anything... We have no police force, so who are we supposed to call with complaints?"
Mr. Burns noted the N.H. Fish and Game is the agency to be contacted with problems and complaints. Harry Brown spoke to this issue by saying, "Fish and Game has committed two officers to Coös County devoted to OHRVs and they may soon have the power to ticket offenders. I've been told that the sheriff has promised a pair of deputies to assist with enforcement."
E.H. Roy made a strong case for not allowing ATVs on Stewartstown roads by stating, "ATVs are off-road vehicles. They don't have the proper safety equipment that cars and trucks have, and remember that the state's $2 million liability policy is capped at the $2 million amount, which means if one accident brings a suit that results in a $2 million settlement, there will be no more money available for future indemnity."
A small contingent from the approximately 700-foot stretch of Diamond Pond Road that terminates at the Diamond Pond boat launch, led by property owner Lloyd Drew, told the selectmen that although they use ATVs, they are opposed to allowing public use of the machines on this particular portion of public roadway. "This little stretch is part of no trail loop, so why is it being considered?" asked Mr. Drew.
He also asked the board if their list of roads under consideration was, "an all or nothing proposition," and was told that the selectmen would not consider individual roads or portions of roads, only those being considered that evening as a whole. Mr. Burns once again reminded the assemblage that any article brought by petition could be voted on at town meeting.
Linda Hook, speaking for her parents, John and Connie Angevine, said, "I've been asked to express their opinion that they are both in favor of the selectmen's proposition." Robert Brooks made the most succinct statement of the evening saying, "I'm for use on trails and roads." A few expressed the sentiment that opening roads for OHRV use could be allowed until the trail network on private land is more extensive, but Craig Washburn told the group, "There is no new money for new trails in 2014."
Mr. Brown's final statement to the hearing concerned the economic impact that ATV use has had on Coös County in recent months: "I can tell you that rooms and meals tax revenue during the first two quarters of 2013 in Coös County went up about 15 percent, and the only thing different from then and the past was the Ride the Wilds trail system."
County Commissioner Rick Samson noted that Jericho Park in Berlin has been a huge ATV tourism draw and stated, "I feel we need to find ways to entice riders to come here. Perhaps we can use roads only as long as necessary until the trails are all connected although I agree that law enforcement is the biggest concern."
He asked the board if there could be a nonbinding show of hands on the issue as presented by the selectmen. At this point Mr. Coates called for a straw poll and 24 stood in favor of the board's proposal while only five stood in opposition.