Sometimes, a matter of principle is more important than the almighty dollar. But that is not, apparently, the case with the Lewis County Legislature, which over the past few years has flagrantly ignored state law, time and time again and in the face of a number of court rulings that have gone against it. The Legislature has persistently shown throughout the development of its all-terrain-vehicle trail system that it doesn't care about the state law that limits the use of public roads open to ATV traffic to those roads that provide access to an otherwise inaccessible section of trails.
Here is the stark reality: the Lewis County trail system is built upon public roads, and use private trails and public lands merely to justify using the roads to connect ATV riders to places throughout the county where they can spend their cash. If you don't believe it, listen to the words of the trail coordinator and the Legislature's Economic Development and Planning Committee, who in November spoke in favor of a move in the village of Port Leyden to open village streets to ATVs so that they can gain access to village businesses — a flagrant violation of the law.
The problem has consistently been, however, that when the county's ATV trail system is challenged in court, it usually loses. The most recent example of a challenge that appeared to be going against the county is a suit filed by Rose V. Pettit, challenging the opening of portions of County Routes 36 and 39. While that verdict has not yet been handed down, preliminary decisions by Judge Joseph D. McGuire were pointing toward yet another defeat for the county.
So, on Tuesday, the Legislature will consider an amendment to the local law that opened the disputed sections of road. It will close the roads that Miss Pettit sued over and open a different, nearby road, that will solve the county's problem this way: it will remove Miss Pettit from the equation because the new section of road is far enough from her property to deny her legal standing to sue. In other words, legislators are convinced they are going to lose this suit, so they will shut the roads being sued over, but open new sections elsewhere and hope nobody on that section of road will sue them.
One of the reasons that the ATV trails issue is so polarizing is that a lot of people who don't care all that much about ATVs one way or another, do care that their elected officials find no problem in ignoring state law. I have a very hard time believing that all 10 of the legislators think this is not an ethical problem. In fact, I doubt that it is so. Which makes this all the more galling, because any legislator who is uncomfortable with this egregious ethical lapse but doesn't speak up for fear of angering the Rick Lucases and the Bob Diehls and the ATV crowd in general, really wasn't worthy of voting for in the first place.
Trail coordinator Bob Diehl said recently that the county is making progress in developing off-road trails, using a mixture of public and private land. This is a good thing. If Lewis County property owners want to offer up their land for trails, it could lead to a real trail system that complies with state law. Anything that replaces the existing public road system that connects wee segments of off-road trails will be better for everyone. But before that happens, someone in power is going to have to man-up and say “Enough” to the current nonsense.