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Colton officials hoping for environmental review during spring, feel ATV local law is close to completion otherwise


COLTON - Colton town officials say that Mother Nature may play a role in the continuing efforts to rework a local law allowing all-terrain vehicle traffic on stretches in the hamlet.

During a special town board meeting held Wednesday morning, St. Lawrence County Attorney Michael Crowe explained that when the ongoing array of snow storms come to a long awaited halt and engineers are able to do their environmental review revisions be made to a local law the town board passed and later rescinded late last year.

“The SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) is a process by which government looks at environmental impacts before they do something. It doesn’t guarantee any particular outcome. So when the county did the trail, they said, ‘If we’re going to do this trail, we’d like to do an environmental review for (the ATV designated) section and by the way we’re going to have the trail all the way to Franklin County.’ So the DEC said, ‘No you can’t do it that way. You can’t segment environmental review of a lead project like this, so you’ve got to do an environmental review of the whole trail.’ And that’s called a Generic Environmental Review, a GEIS.” Mr. Crowe said. “So the next thing that’s going to happen is that the engineers that do environmental studies, they’re going to complete the supplement to the GEIS for this particular portion of the trail.”

The environmental work for the supplement to the GEIS will be performed by the Syracuse based engineering firm, Barton & Loguidice, D.P.C.

“As soon as the snow melts, they’ll be out because they’ll want to be able to look at the ground,” Mr. Crowe said.

Town attorney Eric J. Gustafson said there wasn’t much for the town board to do at this stage of the process. :Barton and Loguidice, I think, is going to need to go back and redo the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) work for the road portions of the trails that the town of Colton was considering opening up to ATV traffic. I think that work needs to be done before this board can do anything. Then there’s some steps that need to be taken at the county level as well before the town of Colton board is in a position to do much of anything,” he said.

“In speaking with the representatives of Barton and Loguidice, they wanted to get back into Colton and collect the data to do the EQR work once the weather calms down a little bit,” Mr. Gustafson added.

In August, the town board passed a measure that would allow all-terrain vehicle traffic on stretches of Morgan Road, Windmill Road and Cold Brook Drive, a stretch that equals 2.95 miles. Less than two months later, six Colton residents appealed the ruling, alleging that the town board failed to satisfy the statutory standards for opening town roads to ATVs. This ultimately led to the rescinding of the law in December.

Mr. Crowe said Wednesday that while the town board’s primary objective is getting the environmental reviews done they should still consider looking at the language of the most recent version of the law as well.

“I think the town of Colton could do some homework in just reviewing the terminology of the local law to make sure that it correctly identifies the roads we’re talking about, and getting that all ready to go. There’s a chicken and an egg thing going on here. Right now, the roads and Route 56 are part of the trail that’s already been established - the Multi-Use Trail,” he said. “The item that’s missing is the ability to use an all-terrain vehicle on the trail as one of the multi-uses of the trail. In order to make that happen... this portion has to be open to ATVs.”

Mr. Gustafson said that given the language of the current New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL), the environmental factors may be all that stands in the way of the local law being brought to another public hearin, and possibly being enacted.

“I think that the VTL is broad enough that if the SEQR is done correctly and it doesn’t identify any terribly adverse environmental conditions, I think that if that portion of Route 56 is open that the language of the VTL is broad enough that it will allow the type of use that is being contemplated. I really do,” Mr. Gustafson said. “There may be others who disagree with that, but I think that’s a reasonable interpretation of what’s in that statute.”

Legislator Alex MacKinnon, R-Fowler, noted that he has reviewed the previous local law that was adopted and he has a few suggestions.

“If you look at the V and T law, it talks about trails or areas - connecting trail head or area to trail head or area, and there’s no definition of either. So we have defined a trail as a linear progression of points, designed in such a way that an ATV as well as others can traverse that trail and an area, as an accumulation area or a spot where ATVs could mingle and congregate, not as a trail,” Mr. MacKinnon said. “Nobody has defined it, so some of the local laws that we did in Parishville, we defined it. Now we know that there’s a distinction between a trail and an area.”

Mr. MacKinnon feels if the board addresses the possible issues with the local law they can get the paperwork together and be ready for its enactment after the environmental reviews are completed.

“You could be putting all this together right up to the point of enacting it. You could do all that. You could do that this week,” he said. “You could redraft the local law, you could think about it, you could look at it, you could have a public hearing on it and right up until the point where you’re going to say ‘aye,’ you stop. Then you wait and you can tell whether or not people are satisfied with the way the local law is written.”

Town Supervisor Dennis Bulger added that with the community’s interest in having the local law enacted and the economic benefits that could stem from the areas being opened up it is critical the next attempt at passing the local law is done correctly.

“I understand the needs for both sides, but like I said from day one I want to do what’s right. I want to do it legally. If we can do it legally and have it stand up in court and avoid litigation for this town and the expenditure of money there - that’s what’s driving me,” Mr. Bulger said. “Yes, I would like to see (the law passed,) and I’d like to see us avoid a lawsuit in doing that if at all possible.”

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