Houlton council re-examines ATV access issue

Posted March 27, 2012, at 6:08 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Almost seven years after failing to resolve the issue, town councilors on Monday evening introduced an ordinance to designate more ATV access routes in the community.

A public hearing will take place on April 23.

In 2005, ATV enthusiasts came before the council and requested that officials open up more access routes in town so riders could navigate legally around more streets.

A handful of ATV trails dot the outskirts of town, and sometimes operators must ride a short distance on public roads to reach a trail. Under state law, a registered ATV driver may not exceed a distance of 300 yards traveling on a public way.

This means riders sometimes cannot get from their homes to nearby trails legally, nor can they always legally reach local restaurants and gas stations by ATV. Riders have stressed that the town would benefit economically if they had access to restaurants and stores using their machines.

Some residents objected to the idea, however, expressing concerns about safety, speeding riders and noise.

Although an ATV committee was organized to examine the issue, the council rejected their proposal because the plan didn’t designate access roads but instead imposed a 10 mph speed limit, with no riding allowed between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. To reduce noise pollution, ATVs needed to have factory-authorized mufflers. Operators would have been prohibited from riding in town from Dec. 1 to May 14.

At the time, one councilor called the proposal “crap,” an ATV enthusiast called it “garbage,” and the council chairman called it a “horrible piece of legislation.”

Councilor Mike Jenkins brought the issue back to the table two weeks ago because he felt that the community could benefit from having more access roads. At the same time, he did not want to see the community’s busiest streets opened to ATV riders.

The new ordinance will allow certain town-owned and maintained roads to be used for access to trails. Streets in the downtown would not be accessible to ATV riders. Downtown Market Square is a high traffic area with a number of stores and offices. The proposal also excludes all state-owned roads from being used, including U.S. Route 1, Route 2A and Route 2.

Despite the exclusion, ATV riders will be able to get to a number of stores, restaurants and gas stations on a section of U.S. Route 1 known as North Street. That’s because the council in 2007 designated the access road as an ATV trail to make it easier for riders to reach the businesses on that part of North Street.

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