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Charges fly at Raquette River Blueway Corridor meeting

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COLTON - Differing views of Colton’s future and an apparent distrust between some residents whose families have lived in the town for generations and others who have moved into the community and are guiding its path into the future surfaced again last week at a special town board meeting called to discuss the role of the Raquette River Blueway Corridor Group.

In a meeting where it was sometimes as important to read between the lines as it was to listen to the actual words spoken, it became clear one of the concerns with the Blueway Corridor is the perception that a faceless group - with what critics claim is no oversight - is drafting a plan that they feel doesn’t put enough emphasis on the need for access to all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile trails in the sprawling municipality and raises concerns about the future of motorized boating on the waterway with its focus on creating a 174-mile paddling route.

But some town officials, including Supervisor Dennis B. Bulger, say the concerns raised by local property owner Walt Paul and Colton resident Schyler Shea about the legitimacy of the Raquette River Blueway Corridor group are unwarranted.

Mr. Paul and Mr. Shea were the first of many to storm out of the Colton Town Hall on Friday, during a contentious special board meeting filled with accusations and interruptions to discuss the Blueway Corridor designation.

“This town here was brought up on ATVs and snowmobiles. You’re killing the businesses here by not having trails,” Schyler’s nephew, Derek Shea, told Mr. Bulger. “So, with this implementation of this Blueway trail, can you guarantee, beyond reasonable doubt that down the road that this won’t affect these people - that they will be given their right to drive the four-wheelers and the snow machines as the Blueway Corridor people wish to have their ADK trails and their streamways available to paddle to and from businesses?”

“Yes I can say that. I can make that pledge,” RRBC Advisory Group Chairman Fred J. Hanss answered. “I came before this board several months ago and said that the (RRBC) is a big tent organization. We’re about tourism, economic development, and we’re on your side. Stop fighting us. We’re on your side.”

At the Feb. 12 town board meeting, Mr. Paul charged that town officials have ignored his numerous legal concerns about the corridor designation over the past few years.

He said that despite a combination of documents, a website, funds being solicited to develop a blueway corridor and more, the Raquette River is not an officially designated blueway corridor.

In response to a recent inquiry, Schyler Shea was told by state Department of State Assistant Records Access Officer Helen Wilbard that, “The Raquette River is not an officially designated ‘Blueway Corridor’ as such designation, as referenced in your FOIL request, is not provided for in state law.”

He said Friday that this has been brought to the town board’s attention in the past.

“(Three years ago,) I had questioned diversity and the actual applications of what they were looking for. It appeared that there was none of the traditional sports or recreational aspects taking place in the community years before,” Schyler Shea said.

He added that, despite previous conversations, he believed the group was “basically not addressing any of the motorized recreation within the trails, which were supposed to be considered part of the Blueway Corridor Trail Plan.”

He pointed out that while the Trail Plan does not exclude ATV users in the text, they need to be specifically included to avoid confusion.

The issue of motorized vehicle usage in the hamlet has been prevalent in many recent Colton meetings, including an early February discussion on the Stone Valley Cooperative Recreation Area.

In that meeting, critics argued that if accommodations are being made by Stone Valley managers to allow mountain bikers to use the area, ATV usage should be permitted as well. Mr. Shea also noted Friday that he was also concerned that Colton representative Mary Jane Watson had filed an Article 78 proceeding “in the town when she’s supposed to be representing the town for his program.”

Ms. Watson, along with five others who live along Route 56 or on Cold Brook Drive, appealed a local law in October that would have allowed ATV operations on certain roads in the hamlet.

The court filing alleged the town board failed to satisfy the statutory standards for opening town roads to all-terrain vehicles, which are currently illegal to operate on town highways.

The appeal ultimately led the town board to rescind the local law.

Mr. Paul had provided the board with “extensive information and a packet of information the other night in a short period of time” at Colton’s February town board meeting and had asked for the special meeting to answer questions from the board or clarify items included inthe more than 40 pages of documents he had shared with town officials.

“I didn’t come here to sit and debate the issues or let you guide the agenda in such a way that my purpose in being here isn’t achieved. So if that’s where we’re going with it, I’ve got things to do,” Mr. Paul told Mr. Bulger shortly after the special meeting started.

“How can this group designate the entire Raquette River as a Blueway Corridor when it flows through 15 municipalities and it appears nine of the 15 municipalities have not endorsed the initiative through the execution of an MOA? They haven’t taken any official action to endorse or support the blueway designation for the section of river that flows throughout their jurisdiction.”

Mr. Bulger said he has felt threatened by Mr. Paul’s accusations, including allegations of illegal activity with the RRBC’s funds, and the town supervisor added after looking through all of the paper work still did not see any legal issues.

“I had no intention of calling this meeting. This meeting was asked for. Now that (the town board) has been put in the middle of this and been accused of fraud, waste and conspiracy even, I’ll have my say and then others can have their say,” Mr. Bulger said.

He suggested there was an “implied threat” to board and community members.

“The statement that was made (by Mr. Paul) - ‘Obviously I don’t need to tell you, this could hold some serious ramifications for the town of Colton and those involved’ - to me that’s a threat. It’s a threat that we’re going to be faced with litigation, personally as well as the town. I don’t care for that,” Mr. Bulger said.

The town supervisor added that town attorney Eric J. Gustafson had reviewed the information and did not see any statute being violated that would prevent a blueway corridor designation.

“What is it we’re doing wrong? What is it we’re violating?” Mr. Bulger asked repeatedly during the meeting.

“From my background as an inspector general for many years, one systemic issue is personality differences. That drives a lot of this. The other systemic issue as I see it is the motorized/ATV perception that they’re being excluded from what’s going on. If they’re being excluded, I don’t see it. ... If they’re being excluded, it’s because of the vehicle traffic law, town laws, county laws, whatever. Do you see (the RRBC) excluding ATVs from the corridor? I don’t.”

Mr. Shea also raised the issue of the erection of a kiosk in the town with a picture of the Raquette River entitled “Raquette River Blueway Corridor.”

“The same thing that we approached you on two or three years ago, asking about oversight, asking about inclusion in the signage, asking about inclusion in the kiosk was totally ignored,” Mr. Shea said.

Mr. Bulger said he did not recall that happening, but Mr. Shea said he had documentation of the meetings occurring.

Mr. Paul also argued about the lack of an intermunicipal committee that was required with the forming of the RRBC.

“The second piece is that the Intermunicipal Coordinating Committee was never developed. That was to be the cornerstone of this project,” he said.

“This issue will not be decided by the town of Colton. It will be decided by the Department of State and also will be decided to see if there’s any merit in it, by the New York State Attorney General’s office who has an official complaint,” Mr. Paul said.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s going to get there because I tried to intervene early on and it never happened. The steering committee took this in the direction they wanted it to go. I tried to provide some red flags.”

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