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Constableville ATV law challenged for second straight year

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LOWVILLE — With passage of a new Constableville all-terrain- vehicle law comes a fresh legal challenge.

Bernadette M. DeSantis and Bruce R. Krug, in a state Supreme Court lawsuit filed Monday in the Lewis County clerk’s office, are seeking nullification of a law passed by village trustees in April that opened segments of James and High streets totaling 0.6 of a mile to ATVs, along with a preliminary injunction restricting use of those streets by such vehicles.

“It is my belief that the Village of Constableville exceeded its authority when it passed the Local Law that opened village roads to ATV traffic through the Village of Constableville,“ Mrs. DeSantis, a James Street resident and past member of the village Board of Trustees, stated in legal papers.

As with other court challenges filed by Lewis County ATV opponents in the past few years, the new one was filed “pro se,” meaning Mrs. DeSantis and Mr. Krug — a former Lewis County legislator who lives 1.5 miles outside the village — plan to represent themselves in court.

Mrs. DeSantis last fall sued the village over a similar street-opening law adopted in 2012, contending current trustees violated state Vehicle and Traffic Law and did not follow proper procedure in environmental review of the move.

In response, officials chose to repeal that law rather than spend money on a court defense for a “50-50 shot” at success, Mayor Grant E. Moshier has said.

While the street openings were to be part of a larger plan by the Highmarket Wheelers ATV Club to add both on- and off-road riding in the Constableville area to the county trail system, legislators in summer 2012 rejected the plan, despite Constableville officials already having passed their law.

County officials this spring approved a revised plan with more off-road trails and fewer legal questions, and Constableville trustees passed a new law with hopes that the current openings, now included in the county system, are more easily defensible.

Mrs. DeSantis and Mr. Krug don’t think so.

The suit contends that the village environmental review still “inadequately addresses” issues with ATVs and was not coordinated with the county review, that some trail segments are not properly identified and that the law violates state Vehicle and Traffic Law by routing ATVs from one street to another and solely providing a connection to two businesses, the Alpine Restaurant and Constableville Nice N Easy on Route 26.

It also suggests that a miniscule off-road stretch used to connect two street segments is not a legitimate trail and “exists only as an attempt to justify opening village roads” and that Constableville trustees violated the state Open Meetings Law by discussing the proposed law in executive session at an April 22 meeting and failing to state a reason for entering closed session on two occasions last year.

State historic preservation officials should have been notified of the proposal, given the presence of a designated historic district throughout Constableville, the petitioners add.

Municipalities may open roads to ATVs “when in the determination of the governmental agency concerned, it is otherwise impossible for ATVs to gain access to areas or trails adjacent to the highway,” according to state law. However, the law leaves the definitions of areas and trails open to interpretation.

An informal opinion from the state attorney general’s office to the county in 2005 said roads should not be opened to ATVs simply to connect with other roads or commercial parking lots. However, they may be opened to connect actual trails or other riding areas.

Now-retired state Supreme Court Judge Joseph D. McGuire in 2008 and 2010 threw out road-opening laws in the towns of Leyden and Lyonsdale, respectively, ruling they were adopted without providing adequate justification under state law.

Judge McGuire in November 2010 also rejected a county motion to dismiss a lawsuit by Greig octogenarian Rose V. Pettit, suggesting that county road segments should not connect directly to town roads that previously were open to ATVs. However, he did not make a final ruling in the matter, and Mrs. Pettit has since died, but the suit — seeking annulment of a 2009 law opening 2.32 miles of county roads to ATVs — continues through her estate.

Two other ATV detractors, Janette M. Peek, Watson, and Gerald A. Smith, Barnes Corners, in August 2011 also filed a lawsuit seeking nullification of a June 2006 law that opened 11.5 miles of Lewis County roads to ATV traffic. A ruling in that case is still pending, as well.

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