LOWVILLE — Changes to Lewis County’s event permit law were voted down in part due to issues raised by the host of an ATV event that prompted the proposed amendments.
John DeGuardia, operator of the Timberview Resort in Turin, spoke at the public hearing on the local law change Tuesday night during the county Board of Legislators meeting.
He took exception to the proposed participant threshold — a change from 250 people to 50 — that would trigger the requirement for a permit for motorized events like ATV and snowmobile runs.
“I think that’s totally ridiculous,” Mr. DeGuardia said. “At any time, any one of us on the hill have more than that. I have a tiny hotel. If my hotel is full we’ll have more than 50.”
He added later, “The permit is the easy part. It’s your insurance and all of the other stuff you want on top of it. If you’re an ATVer or snowmobiler, you have insurance. So you’re going to force these guys to do something they can’t do, something they can’t afford to buy.”
The insurance required in the proposed law targeted event organizers, not participants, to ensure that any damage done to roads or resident properties — as observed in the past — could be compensated through insurance.
He referred to his own event in April, which was the catalyst for changing the law because it exposed a loophole.
When an estimated 300 to 400 riders showed up, Mr. DeGuardia claimed he had no way of knowing that would happen.
He had told Recreation, Forestry and Parks Director Jackie Mahoney before the event that it should be like previous similar ATV runs that had attracted between 160 and 175 riders and that no county trails or roads would be used.
The information he provided in the meeting, however, indicated that he had known the event would be bigger.
“On my event, we normally get 250 people, but we got a lot more because they were all coming to that SNIRT date no matter what. We all know that from the year before,” he said. “I had no idea that (the county trails opening) was going to happen.”
County trails near Brantingham and Lyons Falls opened in the week before Mr. DeGuardia’s event, resulting in businesses along that route asking to be included. He accepted and promoted them along with businesses on the original route on town roads.
Mr. DeGuardia also said that event organizers shouldn’t have to pay for a permit because riders using the county trail system pay for a permit, calling it “double dipping.”
The event permit fee is $20 and Mrs. Mahoney said she had received nine applications this year, including for the popular Ride for Ryan charity event, although not all of the events required a permit.
District 7 Legislator Gregory Kulzer agreed that the 50 participant threshold was too low when it was time to vote on the measure.
“Fifty, that could be an extended family, I mean if we got all the ... together and we’ve all got wheelers, that would be it. That would be 50 right there,” Mr. Kulzer said.
Other legislators agreed and were concerned about the insurance requirements and the 60-day timeframe required for notification.
“I’m not sure it’s accomplishing what we want to accomplish,” District 9 Legislator Thomas Osbourne said.
The event permit was introduced “so the emergency services, the hospital and the sheriff’s office knew what was going on, it was not to restrict anything,” Board Chair Lawrence Dolhof said.
After Mr. DeGuardia’s spring event was so large, he gave a $500 donation to Mrs. Mahoney for the trails fund, although County Manager Ryan Piche said the check was not cashed. Mr. DeGuardia was fined $750 based on the terms of the existing permit law which did not require a vote of the board.
Mr. Osborne, Mr. Kulzer, Ian Gilbert, Lisa Virkler and Thomas Hathaway voted against the law changes while Mr. Dolhof, Richard Chartrand and Jerry King voted in favor.
Mrs. Mahoney said she hopes to see the towns, who will have the option to opt into the revised permit law, participate more in the discussion going forward.
“It’s something we need to continue to work on,” Mr. Piche said. “We want to be pro-tourism and we really understand the economic impact of people coming to our community to ride and enjoy themselves, but at the same time we need to do it safely, we need to have regulations. The very least folks can do is let us know when they’re having these events. 250 probably was a good gauge, but people aren’t being square with us, either.”