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Lewis legislators change ATV permit fees, despite club opposition

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County legislators on Wednesday moved forward with a fee change to the county’s all-terrain vehicle permit system despite opposition from ATV club members.

Lawmakers voted 9-1 to change the ATV permit fee to $65 and eliminate any club member discounts, with the intent of paying clubs only for trail work they complete. Legislator Paul M. Stanford, D-Watson, was opposed.

Mr. Stanford — as well as several club members in attendance — expressed concern that the switch would discourage riders from joining clubs.

“Myself and many of our club members are against this,” said Clifford White from the Highmarket Wheelers ATV Club. “You’re killing the clubs. That’s what it boils down to.”

Initial permits have cost $40 for an ATV owned by a member of a club in the Tug Hill Adirondack ATV Association and $80 for a machine owned by a nonmember, although nearly all riders have become club members to qualify for the discount.

Under the new plan, which will take effect once the law is filed with the state, all riders would be charged $65 for their initial permits, with a multipermit rate of $20 per additional machine remaining in effect.

The permit fee increase would provide more funding that the county could distribute to clubs to offset trail development costs in their areas, according to legislators.

“The (Economic Development) Committee wants to work with the clubs that are doing work on the off-road trails,” said committee member Philip C. Hathway, R-Harrisville.

The county contracts with the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce to sell ATV permits, with the chamber receiving a 10 percent administrative fee.

During the first years of the program, riders who bought permits could simultaneously join the club of their choice for a $25 membership fee. The proceeds then were distributed to the clubs, with $24,050 collected in 2011.

However, the program was altered for the 2012 season so the chamber would offer memberships only for the Tug Hill Adirondack ATV Association, not specific clubs, and the association — which had consisted of representatives of three Lewis County clubs and four others based outside the county — collected $18,975 from it.

Chamber officials have said that the switch was made primarily because of how difficult and time-consuming it was to verify riders were members of individual clubs and that things went much more smoothly last year.

However, the move was criticized by many legislators, who said it was improper because the board never approved it, and perceived by many club members as an attempt to effectively get rid of them in favor of the regional association.

When questioned about the reason for the permit fee hike, Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, chairman of the legislative Economic Development Committee, said the $65 was the same amount riders have paid in past years for a permit and club membership.

“If you think this isn’t going to hurt the clubs, you’re wrong,” said Francis Roy, president of the Brantingham-based Black River Valley 4 Wheelers Club.

After already paying $65 for a permit, riders may not want to pay any more for a club, and clubs with few members are not going to be able to do trail work, he said.

Mr. Roy also warned that club members may decide not to buy permits once the change is made. Because the county’s trail system is so heavily dependent on municipal roads, and because the county is banned from charging for the use of public highways, riders without permits cannot be banned from the majority of the trail system.

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