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Lewis County officials reverse ATV permit administrative switch

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County officials have reversed an administrative change in the county all-terrain vehicle trail permit system that caused club consternation and was enacted improperly.

“We’ve deviated from the law,” Legislature Vice Chairman Charles R. Fanning, R-Copenhagen, said Tuesday during a meeting with ATV club officials that was attended by eight of 10 legislators.

Lawmakers at the legislative Economic Development Committee session directed the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce to go back to offering permit discounts only to members of ATV clubs in the Tug Hill Adirondacks ATV Association, but not to association members themselves.

Chamber Associate Director Donna Stenoski said the change was made at the suggestion of county Trail Coordinator Robert C. Diehl. While it was apparently discussed by the Economic Development Committee, it was never reviewed by the full Legislature, nor was there any attempt to amend county law to allow ATV association members to receive a permit discount.

Riders who have already purchased permits for the 2013 season and joined the association for a discount will be asked to select a member club instead.

Under the permit program, the county contracts with the chamber to sell ATV permits, with the chamber receiving a 10 percent administrative fee. Permits cost $40 for an ATV owned by a club member and $80 for a machine owned by a nonmember.

During the first few years of the program, riders who bought permits — whether in person at the chamber office or at several local businesses, by telephone or on the chamber website — could simultaneously join the club of their choice for a $25 membership fee. The proceeds then were distributed to the individual clubs.

However, the program was altered last year so the chamber would offer memberships only for the Tug Hill Adirondack ATV Association.

Mr. Fanning said that contradicts the county ATV law, which specifies discounts only for members of clubs, not the clubs’ regional association. County attorney Richard J. Graham agreed with that assessment.

Ms. Stenoski said the switch was made primarily because of how difficult and time-consuming it was to verify riders were members of individual clubs.

“That worked out very well,” she said.

The biggest issue was with riders who joined a club but waited until later to buy a permit, only to forget their membership cards, Mrs. Stenoski said. While clubs periodically provided rosters, they often were not updated frequently enough, and club officers were not always available for membership verification.

“It just made us look like we didn’t have our act together,” Mrs. Stenoski said.

Legislator Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville, suggested that such riders simply be required to show proof of membership to get the discount. Those who do not have proof would need to pay for another membership, then get reimbursed by the club later.

The move was perceived by many club members as an attempt to effectively get rid of them in favor of the regional association, and a couple of clubs responded by recently leaving the association, meaning its members now would not be eligible for permit discounts for the 2013 season.

“I would recommend that the clubs that got out of the association get back in it,” Mr. Fanning said.

Any lingering issues between the clubs and association should also be hashed out sooner rather than later, he said.

“We need everybody to work toward the same goal,” he said.

Committee Chairman Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, said he plans to hold another meeting soon to discuss whether any changes to the permit system are warranted.

The legislative committee on Tuesday also reviewed new plans from Clifford White of the Highmarket Wheelers ATV Club to develop trails throughout the town of West Turin.

While lawmakers last fall rejected an earlier plan due to concerns about an overabundance of road usage and its ability to pass legal muster, they seemed more pleased with the revised version.

The proposed addition of private trails to the county ATV system will likely come to the full board at its Feb. 5 meeting, with any road openings to be considered in March following public hearings.

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