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Constableville woman challenges village’s ATV street openings

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LOWVILLE — A Constableville woman is challenging her village’s opening of streets to all-terrain vehicle traffic.

Bernadette M. DeSantis, in a state Supreme Court lawsuit filed Friday in the Lewis County clerk’s office, is seeking nullification of a law passed by village trustees in June that opened segments of James and High streets totaling 0.7 of a mile to ATVs.

Mrs. DeSantis, a James Street resident and past member of the village Board of Trustees, contends current trustees, “in their apparent rush to satisfy ATV riders,” violated state Vehicle and Traffic Law and did not follow proper procedure in environmental review of the move.

As with other court challenges filed by Lewis County ATV opponents in the past few years, the new one was filed “pro se,” meaning Mrs. DeSantis plans to represent herself in court.

The village law, adopted June 5, opens a 0.29-mile stretch of James Street from a trail on private land to the intersection with Main, North Main and High streets, along with 0.33-mile and 0.08-mile stretches of High Street from that intersection to the village line, with the two connected by a private trail.

The trail off James Street provides a connection to two businesses, the Alpine Restaurant and Constableville Nice N Easy, located along Route 26.

Mrs. DeSantis contends the segment is essentially “a driveway to two commercial businesses” and, as such, should not be used to justify a connecting road opening. She also disputes the direct connection from James Street to High Street, even though it essentially sends riders on a straight path through the four-way intersection, on the grounds that road-to-road connections should not be allowed under state law.

The lawsuit also suggests that a 0.07-mile off-road stretch used to connect two street segments is not a legitimate trail and “exists only as an attempt to justify opening village roads.” It adds that the village did not follow the proper state Environmental Quality Review Act process and that the streets were not named in a county environmental review for inclusion into the county’s ATV trail system.

That review was approved by legislators at a special meeting July 17. However, a resolution approving access agreements with 17 private landowners and Constableville for inclusion of off-road and street segments into the trail system failed by a 5-5 vote, with six votes required for passage on the 10-member board.

Opposing legislators cited concerns that the overall plan — a proposal by the Highmarket Wheelers ATV Club to develop off-road trails on many private parcels and connect them with roads and streets — may not pass legal muster, given some road-to-road connections.

Municipalities may open roads to ATVs “when in the determination of the governmental agency concerned, it is otherwise impossible for ATVs to gain access to areas or trails adjacent to the highway,” according to state Vehicle and Traffic Law. However, the law leaves the definitions of areas and trails open to interpretation.

An informal opinion from the state attorney general’s office to the county in 2005 said roads should not be opened to ATVs simply to connect with other roads or commercial parking lots. However, they may be opened to connect actual trails or other riding areas.

Now-retired state Supreme Court Judge Joseph D. McGuire in 2008 and 2010 threw out road-opening laws in the towns of Leyden and Lyonsdale, respectively, ruling they were adopted without providing adequate justification under state law.

Judge McGuire in November 2010 also rejected a county motion to dismiss a lawsuit by Greig octogenarian Rose V. Pettit, suggesting that county road segments should not connect directly to town roads that previously were open to ATVs. However, he did not make a final ruling in the matter, and Mrs. Pettit has since died, but the suit — seeking annulment of a 2009 law opening 2.32 miles of county roads to ATVs — continues through her estate.

Two other ATV detractors, Janette M. Peek, Watson, and Gerald A. Smith, Barnes Corners, in August 2011 also filed a lawsuit seeking nullification of a June 2006 law that opened 11.5 miles of Lewis County roads to ATV traffic. A ruling in that case is still pending, as well.

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