JACKSON — The Select Board voted March 8 to reject the citizen petition for an ordinance regulating the process to open roads in town to ATV use. It also voted to withdraw the permit issued in August 2020 to the Jackson Wheel and Ski Club and to allow all roads to become ATV access routes.

After consulting Maine Municipal Association staff attorney Garrett Corbin through multiple emails, Select Board members decided to reject the ATV ordinance petition submitted by a group of residents. Corbin said in the emails that the ordinance would supersede Select Board authority, which goes against state legislation that empowers the Select Board to vote on ATV use on town roads.

“It calls for an unlawful act,” he wrote. “The law does not authorize a town meeting to make this determination, yet the petition … would result in that outcome if approved,” he said. In other words, the petition is beyond town meeting authority.

David McDaniel, who owns property on East Chase Road, is part of the group that submitted the ordinance. He disagrees with Corbin, and said the ordinance does not take the power to approve ATV use on town roads away from the Select Board.

The ordinance would have required that an ATV club submit a permit application to use a town road as an access route, there would be a public hearing for the application before the Planning Board, then it would be submitted to the Select Board for a vote, according to the ordinance language. The ordinance would also require notification of  abutters of the road where a permit application applies.

At the meeting, McDaniel asked board members if he could talk to Corbin. A town’s select board members must give a member of the public permission to talk to MMA staff. Board member Bryan Menard said he did not think it would be helpful to let McDaniel talk to MMA staff.

A resident at the meeting said it could open up a can of worms where allowing one person to speak to MMA would require letting multiple people talk to the organization. The board did not give permission forMcDaniel to speak to Corbin.

Board member Don Nickerson moved to allow all town roads to be used as ATV access routes, and his motion was approved. McDaniel thought the board should call a town meeting to gauge residents’ opinions on the matter before voting to open all the roads up to ATVs.

He thought instead of just opening all roads, the board should choose which roads will be open and which not, rather than leaving it up to the club’s discretion. He said just because the board has the authority to approve the motion does not mean it should.

Board member John Work got into a heated exchange with McDaniel where Work accused the resident of misleading people with information he has mailed to residents, and McDaniel accused Work of “spinning the story.” McDaniel said he stood by what he wrote in mailings to residents regarding the citizens’ petition.

Menard then made a motion, which was passed, to rescind the permit given to the club in August 2020 on the grounds that it is irrelevant now that all town roads are open as ATV access routes. Because the permit was rescinded, the straw vote that was supposed to be taken at town meeting March 19 is no longer on the meeting warrant.

In an email, Corbin warned board members that including the straw vote on the town meeting warrant could create an impression that the vote is binding on municipal officers.

Late last summer residents on some town roads noticed ATV signs posted and became concerned that there was no public notification of the decision to approve a permit for the ATV club in August 2020 to allow some roads to be access trails for ATVs. They argued that the permit was approved in 2020 at a time when the town website said all Select Board meetings were canceled until further notice.

Residents argued that there was not enough public notice for the decision. Board members agreed to have the signs taken down, hold a public information meeting regarding ATV use on town roads, which was held March 1, and to put an advisory straw vote on the next town meeting warrant.

Since then, the board learned that it does not have to issue a permit to the ATV club to allow town roads to be used as ATV access tails. Instead, it can approve town roads to be used as ATV access routes at a public meeting. The approval only applies to town-owned roads.

Nickerson said the club will be responsible for complaints. Club members at the meeting said complaints will be taken on a case-by-case basis. Board members said that ATVs cannot be used on roads that are not marked with signs. The club will keep in contact with board members when it decides to post a public road.

One resident at the meeting felt that there was not enough opportunity for public input. Menard said he did not feel he should have to defend the public’s right to use public ways. The board represents all residents and it is not fair, he said, that some residents in town should block something to which the public has access. He said the issue can always be revisited in the future.

“The board will always stand by the right of the public to use a public way lawfully,” he said.

As the club chooses which roads are best to post, he hopes the issue will be put to rest, he said in an email to The Republican Journal after the meeting. He hopes the club will choose the best routes for the most residents who want to access local trails. The board’s vote does not mean all roads in town are automatically open to unlimited ATV use.

McDaniel said he was disappointed that the board took a vote to open all roads as ATV access routes without anyone in the town knowing it was going to be voted upon, he said in an interview after the meeting. What weighs most heavily on him is the fact that the board took major action for the town without informing the public first. He is still considering what steps to take next.

Menard said there has not been a more publicized topic in town in recent years. The overwhelming feedback he has heard from residents on the topic reinforces that opinion. “I think with all the mailings, newspaper articles and public meetings that have transpired, that there is no topic in the last six years that has had more publicity,” he said.

Resident Louise Shorette, who lives on East Chase Road, said she was shocked at the outcome of the meeting. She is concerned that no one in town knew that the board was going to take action on the ATV issue at that meeting.

“I felt disrespected, because the town had 54 people sign the ordinance petition and those 54 people wanted to have input on what happened. And they, the selectmen, disregarded the effort of all of those people who signed the petition to have it put out in to the public and they just disregarded and disrespected everyone in town,” she said.

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