May 23, 2018
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Houlton expands ATV access to some town roads

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

HOULTON, Maine —With ATV riders across the state waiting for access to the trails, town councilors have adopted an ordinance to designate more ATV access routes in the community after a first attempt failed seven years ago.

During a meeting last week, councilors voted 5-1 to approve the new ordinance. Councilor Sue Tortello, unhappy with wording in the edict that she pegged as “too vague,” voted in opposition.

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 restaurants and gas stations by ATV. Riders have said that they could pour money into the coffers of local businesses if they could get to restaurants and stores by ATV. The access routes could help them reach trails that legally would take them to stores or to places where they could park and walk to a business.

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

Although an ATV committee was organized to examine the issue back in 2005, 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.

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 in March 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 as long as riders remain on the far right-hand side of the road and ride at 10 mph. 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.

During last week’s meeting, Tortello said that she was not “anti-ATV,” but she was not sure the ATV issue was really a problem in the community. She noted that since 2008, there have been 62 ATV complaints, 15 of them in the last 16 months. She also said that she did not like the part of the ordinance that talked about where the ATV access route signs would be erected. She thought it would be too costly to put one sign up on more than 150 streets. She also was concerned that the ordinance did not set a limit for how far a rider could travel on a public road to reach a trail.

Jenkins said police would know whether they saw an ATV rider in an area that did not have a trail nearby.

“They are going to go from point A to point B to get on the trail,” he said, adding that no one would see ATVs darting around traffic downtown or going to the grocery store. “They [the police] should be able to determine if the rider is going to the closest trail or not.”

Those who violate the ordinance face a $50 fine for the first offense with increases in increments of $50 for subsequent violations. After the third offense, ATV operators could have their machines confiscated.

ATV operation is prohibited Nov. 30-May 15.

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