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Lewis County trail coordinator suspended over unspecified allegations

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s recreational trail coordinator has been suspended without pay stemming from unspecified allegations.

County Manager David H. Pendergast confirmed the suspension was instituted Tuesday, pending results of an investigation by the county sheriff’s department.

He declined further comment, including any specifics on the allegations, saying it is a personnel matter.

Board of Legislators Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, declined to comment on the matter, as did Legislator Richard C. Lucas, chairman of the legislative committee that oversees Mr. Robert C. Diehl’s department.

Mr. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, said the matter at this point concerns only speculation and assumptions and, thus, wouldn’t be fair to Mr. Diehl to discuss.

A few other legislators when asked about the matter Wednesday said they were not aware of specifics.

Mr. Diehl could not be reached for comment.

Lawmakers at a budget work session decided they would restrict the trail coordinator from continuing to take a county-owned truck to his home in the town of Martinsburg, although they could take no formal action because it was not a regular board meeting.

However, that proposed restriction was brought up as a separate issue, not as a result of any allegations, according to a legislator.

Mr. Diehl was hired as the county’s first trail coordinator in mid-2006 after working for the previous eight years as a surveyor and environmental tester.

He oversees the county’s permit-based all-terrain vehicle trails program, handles applications for state reimbursement of snowmobile trail grooming by local clubs, seeks other grant funding for trail work and organizes several events each year, including snowkiting, a mountain bike race and canoe and kayak events.

County legislators, at their final meeting of 2005 under outgoing Chairman Bruce R. Krug, D-Leyden, narrowly voted to rescind a 2001 law opening portions of 39 county roads to ATV traffic. The main impetus for the move was an opinion from the state attorney general’s office suggesting roads should not be opened to ATVs simply to connect with other roads or commercial parking lots, only to connect actual trails or other riding areas.

During the Board of Legislators’s new term with several new members in 2006, legislators made it a priority to rebuild the county ATV system, which had consisted primarily of opened roads, so it would better pass legal muster and enlisted Mr. Diehl to help make that happen.

The trail coordinator, with assistance from primarily volunteer labor, has developed trails on many county reforestation parcels and private properties and overseen road openings intended to connect them.

However, some attempts by towns and villages to open roads have been successfully challenged by area ATV detractors, including Mr. Krug, and a couple of lawsuits that contend the county improperly opened some roads are still pending.

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