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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 5, 2009
Due to controversy, town may designate roads for snowmobile use
By Zach Simeone
BERNE Conflict has arisen between one landowner and local snowmobile clubs.
Carl Baranishyn of High Point Road says that snowmobilers have been trespassing on his property for the past five years. He also thinks that, since High Point Road is not a designated snowmobile trail, snowmobilers using the road are a liability to the town.
The conflict came to a head at last month’s town board meeting, when members of both the Middleburgh Ridge Runners and the Helderberg Ridge Runners both snowmobile clubs came en masse to town hall as Baranishyn made his case.
“I’ve taken issue with the fact that they’re illegal,” Baranishyn told The Enterprise this week. “They ride on properties that don’t belong to them, and there are no signs designating High Point Road as a snowmobile trail,” he said.
Baranishyn and his family have owned their property on High Pont Road since the 1960s, he said, but have only had this problem for the past five years. “They come onto my field, do circles, and then drive off,” he said.
But Baranishyn supplied no proof that the snowmobilers trespassing on his property were members of a local club, rather than individual riders.
Dan Keefe, spokesman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, offered the following advice: “If he’s got unauthorized snowmobilers on his property, he should contact law enforcement.”
According to Baranishyn, the State Police have been to his property.
“They say, ‘Well there’s nothing we can do.’ How do you catch a snowmobile when you’re in a car? [The snowmobilers] just drive wherever they want,” Baranishyn said.
“The first thing we sought to do was to see if we could move the trail,” Supervisor Kevin Crosier said this week of steps taken after the meeting. He said the town is working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation “to see if there’s a way to move the trail, so we could minimize the impact of all this on [Baranishyn].”
Baranishyn didn’t raise the issue with the town to “raise a stink and give these guys trouble,” he said. “I brought this up because it’s a liability to the town. If these guys are breaking the law, and something happens, the town could get sued,” he said.
If the town and the DEC cannot move the trail, the town will hold a public hearing next fall to discuss designating parts of High Point Road, Lawton Hollow Road, Beaver Road, and Sickle Hill Road, “because that makes it legal” for snowmobilers to be on these roads, said Crosier.
It will likely be put on the agenda for the August town board meeting, he said. “So, we’d introduce it as a local law in August, and have a public hearing in September,” said Crosier. “We want to do it in the fall because that would give us the summer to see if we could go to DEC and reroute the trail.”
In either case, both the town and the New York State Snowmobile Association say there is no liability.
“The snowmobile club carries a statewide insurance policy, and, there’re only two homes on that road, so it’s not a high-traffic road,” Crosier said. “And, actually, it’s safer if we make it a designated snowmobile trail, because then we can post signs on the road so people traveling on the road will know it’s a snowmobile trail.”
Executive Director Jim Jennings of the New York State Snowmobile Association went into more detail on the statewide insurance policy that covers NYSSA members.
“If the club has a designated trail on private property, and the club maintains it, and there’s any kind of incident, our insurance company would pick up all cost involved with any claim, and the landowner wouldn’t have any out-of-pocket expense,” said Jennings.
On the other hand, “If somebody’s driving down a road not designated as part of the trail system, and they go off the trail and hit a tree, our insurance would not cover that,” Jennings said.
“If they, for example, run into a tree on private property, the person on the snowmobile is responsible,” he went on. “If a landowner puts something across a trail to block it…a piece of wire or something like that, the landowner would be liable. Landowners are covered to allow use of the property, as long as they don’t do anything that could cause injury or harm to anyone using their property.”
NYSSA has more than 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails across New York State, about 85 percent of which are on private property, Jennings said.
“Snowmobiling is a huge revenue generator for small-town communities,” Crosier said. “Small businesses count on these snowmobiles to come through and buy food, drinks, and gasoline. We’ve got all this land, and these rich natural resources. We want people to come use all this land, and then we want people to come into our town and buy stuff,” he said.
“People should not ride on land without permission,” Jennings concluded. “We definitely don’t encourage that. The bottom line is, people need to be responsible for their own actions.”
In other business at its regular February meeting, the town board:
Established fees for recycling electronics. Residents must pay $10 for televisions they wish to recycle, and $7 each for computer monitors and microwaves, “Because that’s how much the town has to pay the recycler to take it away,” said Town Clerk Patricia Favreau;
Scheduled a public hearing on a wind-power moratorium for 7 p.m. at its March 11 regular meeting; and
Voted unanimously to authorize Town Attorney William Conboy to begin eminent domain proceedings regarding the sewer district being built in the hamlet of Berne.