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North Branford Continues Hearing on Ordinance Regulating ATV's, Dirt Bikes and the Like

After gathering input on Jan. 18, a public hearing will continue on North Branford's proposed ordinance to regulate operation and use of certain motorized recreational vehicles including pocket bikes, minibikes, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

The ordinance, once finalized, is hoped to help defray the growing destruction of public property, private property, and the risks created for riders, passengers, bystanders and others as the vehicles are being put to use on trails, in fields and even on streets.

A copy of the proposed ordinance, as it reads currently, is posted at the town's website and can be accessed here. Based on feedback being received as public comments, Mayor Jeffrey Macmillen noted on Jan. 18 that the Town may look to change and develop some of the verbiage in the ordinance regarding proposed time restrictions with regard to use on private property vs. public property.

Residents weighing in via Zoom and on Facebook live at Totoket TV during the Jan. 18 public hearing mainly voiced support for the need for such an ordinance.  They included two members of the Police Commission, Fred Augur and chairman Victor Pietrandrea, who also reported the full police commission was in favor of supporting an ordinance.

"I support it as a police commissioner -- and I know I'm speaking for the rest of the commission -- and as a private citizen," said Augur on Jan. 18.  "For years we've had issues, but recently it's gotten so out of control that it would be irresponsible not to act."

Noting the issues range from "... destruction of public property as well as driving up and down the streets [to] too many things to mention here," Augur said, "It is at a point where it would truly be irresponsible not to move forward with this."

Resident Cliff Potter stated that very visible damage is being caused to public property, such as that at Augur's field, where areas leased as haying fields are becoming untenable.

"The damage is very extensive. I'd say the hay field crop this year is in danger," taking money out of the pockets of the farmer, said Potter. "Every inch of that field has been damaged. It's beyond my comprehension why people are allowed to do this, when in fact you're hurting the very history of our town, the farming."

Some residents raised issues around the danger to the public caused by ATV and dirt bike riders and the like illegally riding on streets. Others noted they are endangering the public while also tearing up hiking trails, including many tended by North Branford Land Conservation Trust (NBLCT).

"A lot of our trails have been damaged; some of them significantly," said NBLCT member Steven Kenning, speaking on Jan. 18. "We put up barriers, the barriers are dragged away; we put up signs [and] many are torn down. It's gotten much worse over the years."

The proposed ordinance strictly prohibits any of the vehicles on public property and requires owners' consent for use of private property. It also proposes only certain hours for riding on private property, basically aligned with town noise ordinances.

Among penalties under consideration for those who fail to comply are some steep costs. The high price of the proposed penalties were noted as a concern by some residents on Jan. 18. As proposed, an operator and/or owner of a vehicle who permits its operation will be fined $1,000 for the first offense; $1,500 for the second offense, and $2,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

The proposed ordinance prohibits passengers on vehicles and provides for a $250 fine to any person 16 and older riding as a passenger. All vehicles are also subject to seizure. Additionally, all violators may be detained by police while enforcing the ordinance.

Both Mayor Macmillen and councilman Walter Goad weighed in on Jan. 18 as residents who grew up riding ATV's here.  As one who "rode extensively" on ATVs in town as a youth and adult, as well as motorcycles, Goad said he was "heavily in favor" of an ordinance.

Macmillen said the growing number of riders, damage and accidents in town are "warnings."

"As someone who grew up in this town that had an ATV, that looks at this town as my home and the beauty of this town, I've seen a tremendous change," said Macmillen. "[It's] not that I've gotten older; but I see that some people [are] a little bit bolder today than maybe it was in my time when we had an ATV. We were much more respectful in how we rode them, where we rode them. We've seen some significant accidents over the past couple of years, loss of life ... these are warnings for us to realize that something needs to be done."

Macmillen also noted the current "no chase" rules in place "...makes it hard for our police department to properly work with our town and make sure they maintain safety" and that a drive through town shows the "significant damage" the vehicles are causing to town and private property.

"This is something that we'll look to make sure we get right," Macmillen said of the ordinance. "And we'll allow for this to have further comment in a future meeting. We certainly welcome the comments."

The Jan. 18 Town Council meeting was held via Zoom, at which time Macmillen noted the public hearing on the ordinance would be continued during the next Town Council meeting. An agenda for the next meeting, scheduled for Tues. Feb. 1, 7 p.m., was not yet available and will be published online at www.townofnorthbranfordct.com


Pam Johnson covers news for Branford and North Branford for Zip06. Email Pam at p.johnson@shorepublishing.com.

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