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Constableville officials plan to rescind challenged ATV law

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CONSTABLEVILLE — Village officials plan to rescind a law opening streets to all-terrain vehicles to avoid fighting a court challenge.

“We’re not going to spend a ton of money,” said Mayor Grant E. Moshier. “That’s not fiscally responsible.”

The village Board of Trustees has set a public hearing for 6 p.m. Monday at the Bell Tower on Schuyler Street to rescind a law, adopted June 5, that opened segments of James and High streets to ATVs.

Past Trustee Bernadette M. DeSantis in late September filed a state Supreme Court lawsuit challenging the validity of the law, contending current trustees violated state Vehicle and Traffic Law and did not follow proper procedure in environmental review of the move. The suit was filed “pro se,” meaning Mrs. DeSantis would represent herself in court.

“It’s really how you interpret the law,” Mr. Moshier said.

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.

After discussing the matter with the village attorney, trustees felt it would be more prudent to rescind the law rather than spend money on a court defense for a “50-50 shot” at success, he said.

The matter could be revisited if and when officials from Lewis County and the Highmarket Wheelers ATV Club come up with another proposal that is more easily defensible, Mr. Moshier said.

“It’s too bad, because they did a lot of work,” he said.

The county’s permit-based ATV trail system closed for the season Oct. 20. The season typically begins in late April or early May, depending on weather conditions.

The village law in question 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.

“It’s money for our businesses, what few we have,” Mr. Moshier said.

While acknowledging that some village residents do not like ATVs, the mayor said that, in a straw poll at a public hearing on the ATV law, 16 of the 18 village residents in attendance expressed support for the street openings.

Mrs. DeSantis’s lawsuit contends the segment is essentially “a driveway to two commercial businesses” and, as such, should not be used to justify a connecting road opening. 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 county 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 narrowly failed.

Opposing legislators cited concerns that an overall plan by the local 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.

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