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Colton town officials disagree over ATV road openings


COLTON - Two Colton town officials disagreed Wednesday over how to proceed with reopening roads for ATV usage - this coming two weeks after state and county officials signed a memorandum of understanding for a land claims settlement that included language calling for the state to work with local officials on the trail system.

The tentative land claims settlement between the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, state and county requires the state to help the town in obtaining the required designation to allow ATV use on a short portion of state Route 56 as part of the county-wide multi-use trail.

“The big question is - how long is (the help) going to take? I talked to the county legislator involved there (Tony Arquiett), and he thinks it can be fast-tracked. But then again, it has to go through the county for approval, it has to go through the state for approval and it has to go to Washington (D.C.) for approval - the (memorandum of understanding) does,” Town Supervisor Dennis B. Bulger said.

Mr. Bulger said he thinks the process will take a while and given that, he approached Town Attorney Eric J. Gustafson Tuesday to draft a new town law.

The law, which Mr. Bulger also discussed with County Attorney Michael Crowe, would focus on reopening roads in the municipality for recreational vehicle usage.

County legislators, on behalf of the county’s Trail Advisory Board, agreed to seek a $70,000 grant for the replacement of a bridge in Dead Creek, South Colton, at a finance committee meeting in late March.

The bridge is at the center of the multi-use trail and without the connector, the trail system essentially would not exist in St. Lawrence County.

“I would suggest that we don’t go beyond (drafting a town law) until we hear more about the state’s position on the bridge,” Mr. Bulger said.

“So you want us to be in limbo for a little longer then?” Councilman Ronald Robert asked.

“Until the state has taken a position on the bridge - otherwise we’re spinning our wheels wasting our time. If they don’t open that bridge then it’s a waste of time,” Mr. Bulger said. “I think we can be ready - once they decide to open the bridge - then we can have the public hearing and whatever’s required and expedite that. But I definitely don’t think we should be going through the public hearing and that whole process until the state has taken a position.”

The town passed a local law in August opening several roads, but that law was rescinded four months later after six Colton residents appealed the decision in an Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court.

The law gave ATVs access to parts of Morgan Road, Windmill Road and Cold Brook Drive, equaling 2.95 miles. The route connects two trails that exist for off-road ATV traffic, according to town officials.

The appeal alleged that the town board failed to satisfy the statutory standards for opening town roads to all-terrain vehicles and the local law was arbitrary and capricious.

Mr. Robert was not seeing eye-to-eye with the town supervisor on the matter.

“We still can open up some roads for this traffic to get through, for the four-wheelers to get to our businesses and stuff. I don’t understand why we have to wait just for that bridge decision,” he said.

“Where do you want to go to and from?” Mr. Bulger asked.

“The roads that we had opened before on both sides of the river - the other side could not get to the stores or the restaurants or anything else in South Colton without that,” Mr. Robert said.

“But you can’t open up a road to go from a trail to nowhere. You’ve got to be going towards another trail. You have to be trail head to trail head,” the supervisor countered.

In 2013, efforts were made to connect trail heads from Franklin and Lewis County all the way into South Colton, including St. Lawrence County. Because the section crossing at the bridge was not connected to the trails the opening of roads to ATV usage was voided.

“We’re the only damn town that is stopping this trail system - Colton - and I think that it is a pathetic thing,” Mr. Robert said.

“I’m just saying if we’re going to do this, we need to do it in a legal way. It has to withstand any challenge in court. We’ve found in the past, it hasn’t gotten to that point,” Mr. Bulger said.

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