HUNTSVILLE – The all-terrain vehicle riders’ battle for roadway privileges in Huntsville is not yet over.
About 22 community members came to a public meeting at town hall to weigh-in on giving road access to all-terrain vehicle riders. Huntsville council will make a decision on the issue in the future.
The municipality’s public infrastructure and protective services committee held a meeting on June 5 to hear arguments for and against a proposal to allow all-terrain vehicles access to Commerce Park via Howland Drive, Centre Street North, Hanes Road, Earls Road, Golf Course Road and Williamsport Road.
The proposal was brought forward by the Algonquin West ATV Club in January.
About 22 people attended the meeting and several others submitted letters to the town in lieu of attending that afternoon. While there was support for the proposal, it was also met by a wave of opposition.
First to speak at the meeting was all-terrain vehicle president Brent Stapleton. He spoke about how access through Huntsville would connect the club’s 350-kilometer trail system in Kearney to the town.
“We’re here today to create more tourism in Huntsville,” he said.
Stapleton has previously stated the all-terrain vehicle industry can boost economic activity. The club hosts two rides per year. The spring event attracts about 300 riders and the fall event attracts 175, which puts Kearney’s accommodation facilities well over capacity, he said.
In what seemed to be an effort to ease some community members’ concerns about rowdy all-terrain vehicle riders, Stapleton reminded them all riders had to be licensed and insured, and they had to follow laws around reduced speed and other road rules.
Joel Erichsen-Brown, a Williamsport Road resident and director for the club, also supported the proposal. He said there are already a number of riders on the road and approving the proposal would simply make their actions legal.
And he suggested wintertime skidoos created more of a disruption than all-terrain vehicles.
Bob Johnson, president of the Haliburton ATV Association, also attended the meeting and noted Haliburton’s municipalities allow the vehicles on their roads.
Another supporter pointed to the sale of fuel, food and accommodation as benefits and noted that the all-terrain vehicle season is much longer than the snowmobile season, which would make its economic impact greater.
Peter Searle, executive director of the Park to Park Trail Association, expressed support as well. And David Saunders, the town’s public infrastructure director, read a letter from a Commerce Park business owner who also supported the proposal.
David Franks, a Williamsport Road resident, was the first to speak against the proposal. He said he saw no benefit to Williamsport Road residents if the proposal were approved.
Franks said he was less than impressed with the idea of hundreds of riders passing by his property, a comment that garnered him applause from the gallery.
“I moved to Huntsville for the quiet, peace and nature,” said the owner of 22 acres. “Having 200 ATVers racing by twice a year is not going to cut it with me. That is not why I moved here, that is not why I support Huntsville.”
Franks raised concerns about what a large volume of riders would do to the condition of the roads and shoulders, and suggested taxes would have to go up to cover the cost of repairs.
But safety was one of his main concerns. Williamsport, he said, has several hills and bends, which makes visibility poor and passing space near non-existent.
“If I’ve got an ATV cruising on the side of a road, a garbage truck coming, along with bus pick up, commuter traffic and cottagers, I’m seeing people dying on my road,” said Franks. “I don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”
That includes dog walkers, hikers, joggers and riders alike, he noted.
Oil spills and leaked transmission and brake fluid, he said, also create environmental concerns.
And he added hitting a deer, which are commonly found along the road, with an all-terrain vehicle is a death sentence.
John Campbell, another Williamsport Road resident, said he objected to environmental degradation and threats to his property value.
And there is another economic angle the committee should consider, he said.
“I hope Huntsville council will consider the views of citizens who would love to retire here, creating jobs and increasing the tax base far beyond the value of snowmobiles and ATV clubs,” said Campbell. “This is a retirement community. Let’s face it – we’re losing our industry, but people are building houses because they would love to retire here. Because of the environment.”
The difficulty of policing all-terrain vehicle riders was raised by several residents.
One resident told an anecdote about a rider who would goof around on the road at night after spending the evening in the bar. The police were unable to catch the rider because he could dart onto off-road trails.
While the resident did not have a problem with responsible riders, one rotten apple spoils the bunch, she said.
Saunders then read a series of letters and emails in opposition to the proposal. Concerns in that correspondence included trailer-parking issues, all-terrain vehicles potentially going on private property, noise, and pollution, among others.
Coun. Det Schumacher, committee chair, said the committee would discuss the proposal at a later date, taking everyone’s comments into consideration.