LOWVILLE — The event permit law passed by the Lewis County Board of Legislators in August is getting its first use and challenge because of a “poker run” organized by the Timberview Resort in Turin last week.
In the General Services Committee’s monthly meeting on Tuesday, the event was discussed because no permit was obtained. Between 300 and 400 people reportedly participated in the run that involved ATV and UTV riders stopping at five establishments on Tug Hill and three more in Brantingham and Lyons Falls via a mixture of town seasonal roads and county trails.
Although Timberview owner John DeGuardia contacted county Recreation, Forestry and Parks Director Jackie Mahoney prior to the event to find out if he needed a permit under the new law, a last-minute change after that conversation also changed the answer if he had asked again.
As originally planned, the poker run would have included only the five Tug Hill establishments using town roads, Mrs. Mahoney said, and because runs hosted by the Timberview over the summer attracted between 160 and 175 people, this event would not have met the requirements for the county permit.
According to the law, events with more than 250 people that use any county property including roads, trails, parks or land must apply for a permit 90 days before the event.
On April 13, county trails were opened in Brantingham and Lyons Falls to accommodate guests at The Edge Hotel in Lyons Falls, Mrs. Mahoney said, resulting in Mr. DeGuardia changing the poker run the day before the event, on April 16, to include two Brantingham businesses and one in Lyons Falls using county trails.
“It was that last minute decision of those businesses to be added that changed it,” Mrs. Mahoney told legislators in the meeting, adding that Mr. DeGuardia told her “he didn’t know that’s the way the law read.”
Not everyone at the meeting believed that denying knowledge of the law was an excuse for not following it.
“They had the event, they didn’t do the event permit. Send them a fine,” said County Manager Ryan Piche, adding later in the meeting, “The entire purpose of this event law was so that groups like this would stop avoiding us and start engaging with us so that we can make sure if there’s a road that’s going to be damaged, we can close it off. If there’s an intersection that’s going to be dangerous, we can put someone there. That’s the purpose of the event law.”
County Attorney Joan McNichol said fines for violating the event permit law can be between $250 and $750 “depending on the violation, the nature and size of the special event,”
She also noted that the permit process allowed the county to notify the sheriff’s office, the emergency department, municipal leaders and others that an event would be held and to provide the support needed to keep it safe for everyone involved.
Mrs. Mahoney said she had contacted the Sheriff’s Office in the weeks before the event because she thought there would be a lot of people out based on social media response to the event’s page.
Law enforcement including the DEC, sheriff’s deputies and the Recreation Patrol were present along the route said Board of Legislators Chairman Lawrence Dolhof, and a number of tickets were written. Head of the County’s Emergency Management Department, Robert Mackenzie also confirmed that there were two accidents related to the poker run.
One of the accidents resulted in two people being injured and taken to Upstate Medical Center: one via helicopter and the other by ambulance.
The permit issue is further complicated by the fact that ATV events like the poker run bring in a significant amount of revenue for the county and local businesses.
Mr. Dolhof confirmed that about $10,000 in ATV trail permits was brought in over the weekend.
Event permits would have been required for all events using county properties with 50 or more people in attendance in the law’s original iteration, with a provision allowing Mrs. Mahoney discretion to wave permits for events like large family reunions that would not need services or have an obligation to have insurance as the law stipulates.
Mrs. Mahoney said that by setting the threshold for event attendance at 250, it only really applies to two events held annually in the county: the Snirt Run ATV event normally held in early April and moe.down music festival in Turin in the summer.
She said she supported the 50-person threshold because it would apply to most events that require other services from the county and could potentially damage county property.
In light of the loophole made apparent by the poker run, District 10 Legislator Jerry King suggested that it may be necessary to “toughen up” the permit law.
The town of Martinsburg also recently passed an event law that would have been violated by Timberview’s poker run but the law has been sent to the state for final approval according to Mrs. Mahoney and has not been published or promoted on the town’s website. Mr. Dolhof said other towns are also considering enacting their own event permit laws.
“I’m guessing that we probably will change the law but what those changes will be and how extensive that might be, I can’t answer that at this point. We’re still taking a look at the big picture.”
One of those possibilities, he said, is to organize roundtable discussions with highway superintendents and supervisors for Tug Hill towns to “see what would work” in a uniform event permit law for both town and county property use.
The county board and other parties and departments related to the law infraction are in the process of verifying details of the poker run to determine if a fine is appropriate and if so, for how much, while also taking a look at the precedent that is being set by this case and what lessons have been learned that can help to more finely tune the event law.
A $500 donation Mr. DeGuardia gave to Mrs. Mahoney for the trail system in the middle of last week is being considered by some involved in the process to be acceptable as payment of a fine while others believe accepting “donations” in lieu of fines could be a slippery slope for future infractions of the law.