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Off-road Vehicles
Vermont Public Radio, December 17, 2009

Douglas Administration To Allow ATVs On State Land
By John Dillon


(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says his administration will brush aside legislative opposition and allow all terrain vehicles to use state land.

The administration's plan could face a legal challenge.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) This week a legislative committee said the administration exceeded its legal authority with a proposal to allow ATVs limited access to state property.

The bipartisan Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules said the Douglas Administration was wrong to use a brief phrase in a motor vehicle statute to make a major policy change affecting public land. So the committee voted unanimously to reject the ATV rule.

But Governor Douglas was not impressed by the committee's reasoning.

(Douglas) "I'm amused and confused by the argument that there isn't legal authority for this rule. For some time we've had a rule that says no ATVs on state land and no one has questioned our authority to impose that restriction."

(Dillon) ATV clubs want to use state land in the Northeast Kingdom to link a network of private trails. Douglas said that allowing ATV riders on a state trail will help control the problem of illegal ATV use.

(Douglas) "We've got to face reality that there are tens of thousands of ATVs in Vermont, most of them well used and responsibly maintained and respectful of private land, but not in every case. And it behooves us, I think, to bring some order to this system, much as we've done with the snowmobilers over the past generation."

(Dillon) But an environmental group that fought the ATV rule says the state lacks the money or personnel to crack down on illegal riding. Anthony Iarrapino is with the Conservation law Foundation.

(Iarrapino) "It really doesn't make any sense to add management of this very high-impact, difficult to manage use to the already difficult burden that the Agency of Natural Resources is trying to hold up with fewer staff than it needs."

(Dillon) Iarrapino says his organization will consider all options, including challenging the ATV rule in court.

The committee's vote to reject the rule will strengthen the opponents' arguments in court. That's because the burden is now on the state to show that the rule is legal.

(Iarrapino) "The legislative committee has made very clear what the legal arguments are, and that is that the Agency of Natural Resources secretary doesn't have the authority to make such a significant change in state land use policy without clear guidance from the Legislature."

(Dillon) State law says opponents have a year to challenge the rule in court. Lawmakers are also likely to propose legislation to reverse the administration's decision.

© 2009 Vermont Public Radio

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton