Lyonsdale Town Councilperson Nancy O'Brien-Dailey felt strongly that her town was acting outside their authority when they voted to open more than ten miles of town roads that allegedly connected to Lewis County Reforestation Land.
The Town of Lyonsdale was encouraged to open these roads to ATV traffic by Lewis County and ATV clubs, ostensibly so that ATV riders could get from one trail to another via town roads.
Lewis County has embarked on creating a countywide ATV trail system that involves connecting some Lewis County Reforestation Land to short sections of private trails to other areas of Reforestation Land all connected with long segments of public roads.
Critics, including this blogger, have long contended that what Lewis County has been doing with cooperation from some of the towns, violates Vehicle and Traffic Law. Short segments of roads can be opened so that ATVs can gain access to "areas or trails" that are "adjacent" to the road where it is "otherwise impossible" for ATVs to do so. Municipalities must prove that both trails are "adjacent" and that it is "otherwise impossible" to gain access before roads may be opened to ATV traffic. Instead, Lewis County has been opening disparate parcels of land and short segments of driveway like private trails as an attempt to justify opening mile after mile of public highway.
Ms. O'Brien-Dailey testified at her Board's public hearing against opening the roads, pointing out the legal problems associated with the action and the accompanying increased liabilty vulnerability the Town of Lyonsdale would be facing. It was all to no avail as the majority on the Board charged ahead, in a rush apparently to please the county fathers and a handful of ATV club officianados- the law and taxpayers be damned. Ms. O'Brien-Dailey pointed out that the town board violated both New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law and State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) requirements and sued the Town of Lyonsdale in New York State Supreme Court in Lowville, N.Y. Supreme Court Judge Joseph McGuire agreed.
In a ruling filed on January 20, 2010 Judge McGuire ruled that the Town of Lyonsdale violated New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law as well as SEQRA requirements.
In her lawsuit Nancy O'Brien-Dailey pointed out that Lewis County wants to make public highways part of the countywide trail system. Judge McGuire agreed saying "At the outset, the County's descriptionof the ATV trail system being evaluated by its GEIS process indicates that it does incude town roadways as part of that trail system."
This ruling should have important ramifications beyond the Town of Lyonsdale and even beyond Lewis County. It should be apparent by now that other towns in Lewis County, as well as the County itself, have far exceeded their authority in allowing ATV traffic on their roads. Even attempting to disguise the road openings as a way to connect to parcels of land has been exposed as the attempt to distort Vehicle and Traffic Law that it is.
Additionally, Jefferson and St Lawrence Counties have undertaken similar laws at the town and county levels and should take note.
The premise of the so called trail system by using public highways as connectors approach here in the north country, when in reality there is more highway than trail involved, is built on violating New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.
Municpalities should follow the law. There are consequences, sometimes extremely costly consequences when they don't follow the law.
Hopefully, more thoughtful consideration to this issue will be given than what we have seen so far. The costs of doing things wrong far exceed the paltry sales tax generated at an ATV patronized gin mill and the effects felt far more widespread.
Nancy O'Brien-Dailey deserves our gratitude. Her actions may ultimately save the taxpayers of Lyonsdale and others areas a lot of money... but in the meantime isn't it a good idea that local government should operate legally?
Beyond the legalities, O'Brien-Dailey vs. the Town of Lyonsdale exposes the attempts at establishing so called ATV trail systems in the north country for what they are- connecting disparate riding areas or short private trails by using many miles of our public highways- in other words...they are a ruse.