Town’s ATV law challenged in court

Tooley Pond Road in the hamlet of Degrasse, town of Russell, is marked by a St. Lawrence County Multi-Use Trail sign. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CLARE — For the second year in a row, the Adirondack Council has petitioned for a judicial review in state Supreme Court of a local all-terrain vehicle law passed by the town of Clare.

Filed Nov. 5, the petition seeks to have the ATV Law voided on the basis of three alleged violations — of state Vehicle and Traffic Law, the state Constitution and the state Environmental Quality Review Act.

Enacted in July and formally called “Permitting and Regulating All-Terrain Vehicle Operation on Certain Town Roads as part of the St. Lawrence County Multi-Use Trail System,” the local law allows ATVs to be used on a 10.75-mile stretch of Tooley Pond Road.

Tooley Pond Road begins in the hamlet of Degrasse, town of Russell, and primarily parallels the Grasse River through portions of the Adirondack Park and the Grasse River Wild Forest.

The roughly 16-mile road winds southeast from Degrasse, ending in Cranberry Lake. The 10.75 mid-section of the road is bounded by the town of Clare, and the ATV Law connects the town’s portion of Tooley Pond Road to adjacent trails in the St. Lawrence County Multi-Use Trail System.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency are both listed as involved agencies on the petition due to Tooley Pond Road passing through state Wild Forest lands and state Forest Preserve lands of the Adirondack Park.

According to the petition, Clare’s ATV Law violates Article 48-c of state Vehicle and Traffic Law, which restricts ATV use on public highways unless “it is otherwise impossible for ATVs to gain access to areas or trails adjacent to the highway.”

The Council argues the town “did not identify or otherwise determine the impossibility of certain areas or trails adjacent to the town highway prior to opening it for ATV use.”

The petition also requests a judgment on the state constitutionality of the ATV Law, as New York’s Constitution prohibits local governments from enacting local laws that are inconsistent with state laws.

State Vehicle and Traffic Law limits ATV use to “short segments of highways” for navigating obstacles, and the Council asserts the town’s action “exceeds its authority” by violating a state law.

A nonprofit focused on the ecological integrity of the Adirondack Park, the Council noted environmental review procedures outlined by the state Environmental Quality Review Act, which requires local, regional and state agencies to evaluate any action for potential environmental effects. Actions, according to the SEQRA, include local laws, codes, ordinances executive orders and resolutions that may impact plants, wildlife, land, air, water or noise level.

“The Town of Clare acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and in violation of the spirit and letter of SEQRA when it enacted Local ATV Law without taking a hard look at the potential environmental impacts,” the petition reads.

The Council filed a similar petition in October 2019, requesting the nullification of a June 2019 resolution permitting ATVs on Tooley Pond Road in Clare.

Last year, Supreme Court Judge Mary M. Farley ordered Clare’s 2019 resolution null and void based on the Council’s petition.

Adirondack Council has previously sued in Lewis County and the town of Forestport, Oneida County, over trail systems that were ultimately deemed illegal.

“We don’t understand why we have to keep fighting this same battle over and over again,” Council Executive Director William C. Janeway said after the 2019 petition was filed against Clare. “We don’t want to keep wasting our time and money, and local taxpayers’ time and money, to reargue the same points. But we have no choice. If the state Department of Environmental Conservation will not do its job, we will defend the Forest Preserve, stand up for the law and prevent destruction of the park’s priceless natural resources.”

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