Harrison to check liability before approving ATV road access request

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

HARRISON — Tim Pellerin has seen firsthand how ATV enthusiasts and the driving public can safely co-exist along the roadway.

As town manager in Rangeley, Pellerin saw ATVs traveling along Main Street as locals and guests headed to restaurants and stores. Parking was developed for the all-terrain machines.

The Otisfield Trail Blazers hope to connect to some trails by gaining public road access along Plains Road and Bolsters Mills. Club president Bill Sprague pitched the idea at a public hearing Tuesday night, noting that the group received positive comments from Otisfield town officials (a letter of recommendation was written and passed along to Harrison selectmen) regarding use of roadways there.

Sprague said the group “self-polices” itself, often taking photos with their phones or “Go Pros” of riders disobeying rules or engaged in illegal activity, and then turning them over to Game Wardens. On occasion, the photo will include the ATV’s registration number, which points wardens in the direction of the offender.

The club places reflective signs along travel areas indicating ATV access, as well as limitation to 25 mph. ATVs travel on the far right of the roadway. Hours to use public ways is from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sprague noted that the 8 p.m. curfew was pushed back a couple of times (with approval from selectmen) to accommodate club functions.

Speed limits along the Harrison roads targeted for ATV access is 35 mph in some spots, 45 mph in others.

Harrison Town Clerk Melissa St. John noted that the state no longer prints ATV rules and regulations, but instead directs users to the state’s website, where they can download the information (and thus have it handy on their phone to check if a question arises).

“There is no way to eliminate those who don’t absolutely follow the law,” Sprague said. “The majority are good people who want to enjoy the outdoors with their family and friends.

Sprague added that the group plans to repair a bridge along the pipeline stretch of trails.

Linda Mercer, who lives on the Plains Road, is a member of Pulpit Rock ATV Club in Waterford. She offered her support of the Otisfield club’s request for public road access and, in talks with others, there was “no objection to riders riding through” there. Mercer noted there are Maine towns, and more in New Hampshire, that allow ATV operators to use main roads to travel to stores and restaurants.

Caleb Humphrey, who serves as trailmaster for the Lake Region ATV Club, said that when public road access is granted, it actually slows down riders traveling along roadways.

“They’re not fleeing — speeding so they don’t get caught,” Humphrey said. “Instead, riders are out for a casual drive and operating safely.

There were no negative comments regarding the request made at the hearing, which lasted about 30 minutes.

However, one resident posed a few questions in a letter to selectmen, which was read by Ray Laplante and Rick Sykes. The sticky point was liability — are ATV riders required to possess insurance (in case the machine runs into private property or an individual) and what liability would the town have if an accident occurred on a public way? ATVs must be registered. Sprague says he carries insurance, but others might not.

So, how did it work in Rangeley? Pellerin said in the 4½ years he was manager there, a few complaints were raised, a few enforcement stops made, but relatively just one incident involving “someone being stupid, and not using common sense.”

Pellerin said the agreement was reviewed and renewed on a yearly basis.

Later in the night, selectmen instructed Pellerin to check with the town’s attorney regarding liability and a decision will occur at the next board meeting.

In other business:

Adding some teeth to ordinances. Yes, Harrison has ordinances addressing street naming and numbering, fireworks and dogs. But, those rules and regulations “lack teeth,” at least right now.

Officials are revising the current ordinances to address holes such as how the rules are to be enforced and what penalties will be levied if a person is not in compliance.

While it behooves homeowners to place numbers on their homes as a means of identification in emergency situations, many do not. The ordinance calls for the placement of 4-inch-size numbers on residences or mailbox.

Selectmen questioned whether there is a need to use fire lane signs anymore since naming and renaming occurred with enhanced 9-1-1.

As for fireworks rules, clarity is needed regarding enforcement (the fire chief is not the one to enforce these rules, officials said) and penalties.

As for the dog ordinance, Town Clerk Melissa St. John said revisions being made are meant to keep pace with changes made at the state level.

With a large voter turnout expected this November, officials want to place these revised ordinances on the ballot. So, selectmen will hold a workshop on Sept. 4, at 9 a.m. to review changes; a public hearing will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 6:30 p.m., prior to the board’s regularly-scheduled meeting.

Plug pulled on charging station idea. If you own an electric car, scratch Harrison off the list of possible charging stops.

Several weeks ago, selectmen were approached about placing a charging station in Harrison. Town Manager Tim Pellerin considered several possible locations, but found that the best spot would likely be somewhere along the fringes of the municipal parking lot. The charger would be mounted on a post, and a parking space dedicated for charging purposes.

Admittedly, there is no estimate on actual cost of allowing the driving public to charge at the station since usage is unknown, at this point. One way the town could recoup some money would be to install a donation box.

Since taxpayer money is involved, Selectman Ray Laplante questioned whether the idea should be brought to a town meeting vote.

Some taxpayers questioned whether they should be subsidizing the green movement. One person asked Selectman Rick Sykes if he would be eligible for some type of rebate to lower his gas costs. Sykes noted that motorists using gasoline are charged a tax when fueling up at the pump, with those funds used for roadwork. Electric car users do not pay a tax.

Selectman Henry Dumont wondered if Harrison really needs to consider the idea now rather than later.

The board voted 5-0 against pursuing a charging station.

Strong scholarship fund returns. These are good days for Brian Noyes of RM Davis since investments continue a nearly decade run of strong performance, giving him the opportunity to tell town officials that their portfolio to fund local scholarships is doing well.

Noyes gave a quick overview of the stock market and what might be coming down the road. The town’s portfolio is usually close to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. Harrison has had good luck with Noyes’ firm. In the 24-year relationship, there were just three negative years.

Board chairman Matt Frank noted that the town opened with a $360,000 investment, and over the years, withdrew $601,000 for scholarships. Today, Harrison still has $644,000 in the account.

Sticking with the judgment…for now? Tony Campbell lost a land-use decision in court, but hoped to work out a deal to lower the judgment of $30,000 levied against him and Sargent Gravel.

Selectmen heard his request to mitigate the court finding, but will seek legal opinion before taking any step.

Campbell briefly recapped the case involving a default judgment when a berm between a gravel pit and housing subdivision (Frontier Estate) was not built as part of planning board approval. Campbell said there was “no harm, no foul” since no homes were built at the site, and his intention is to buy the property to expand the gravel pit operation.

“There was no reason to build the berm if no one is there,” he said. “There is no intention to sell lots.”

While Campbell understands his responsibility to cover attorney and other fees associated with the case landing in court incurred by the town, he is hopeful that selectmen might consider trimming the judgment amount.

Code Enforcement Officer John Wentworth offered no opinion other than for selectmen to review the thick case file and seek an opinion from legal counsel. Town Manager Tim Pellerin concurred.

Twice Tuesday night, Pellerin pointed out that, as town manager, he has no authority regarding code enforcement issues. Residents have brought him complaints regarding land-use matters. His response, if there is a problem with the code officer’s performance, then he will listen and address the matter, but if it is a disagreement regarding a land-use decision or how a violation is handled, that is a CEO, court or possibly a selectmen’s matter.

“I don’t get involved with code enforcement issues. That’s the CEO’s job,” Pellerin said. In regards to Campbell’s request, the manager added, “I wouldn’t do anything without legal counsel first.”

Selectmen agreed.

When Campbell asked what the timeline might be regarding when selectmen would act on the request, officials said it depended upon a response from the attorney.

In another matter, Campbell questioned why the town had not publicly advertised for bids for winter sand over the past four to five years, since he is interested. Pellerin said the town usually secures a good price for salt through the Greater Portland Council of Government. As for sand, a request for bids will be sought this year.

Foreclosures. Like most towns, Harrison tries to work with homeowners in regards to paying back taxes so they can keep their property. Officials currently are working with three owners, and one other cleared up what was owed.

With an Aug. 27 deadline looming, one property owner is “on the clock.” Pellerin told selectmen that the owner has been officially notified by certified mail, as well as a notice taped to the front door by law enforcement, that the property could be taken for failure to pay taxes.

Consent agreements signed. Three Shoreland Zoning violations have been settled and consent agreements reached (including $500 fines), code enforcement officer John Wentworth told selectmen. Agreements were reached with Richard and Donna Ross, Atlantic Northern LLC and John and Margaret Hobbs.

Manager’s report highlights. Some short takes from Pellerin’s manager’s report:

  • In reviewing the town’s personnel policy, Pellerin has made an adjustment in town office hours. Starting Sept. 1, the clerk’s hours will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Other general staff will be 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — which falls in line with other town offices in the area.

Code Enforcement will be Monday through Thursday, while Friday will be used to conduct assessing work and duties.

  • Ron St. John has been hired for Public Works.
  • Needing just a few more emergency lights to be installed, the donated ATV is about ready for service. On another fire department note, since Jan. 1, the HFD has had 220 calls, an increase over last year.
  • Fencing has been ordered for the transfer station, and will cost about $8,500. Those funds will come from carryover from last year’s budget.
  • Harrison will have a new patrol deputy. CCSO Deputy Sam Cofone is moving on to another patrol area. Pellerin has asked Captain Scott Stewart to set up a meeting with him, town officials and the new patrol deputy so concerns can be discussed.
  • Officials are working on estimates to repair and replace some town docks.
  • Town beaches were tested last week (this was the third test done), and water quality was okay.
  • Grubs are raising havoc at RADR and Crystal Lake fields. To date, grubs killed about 12,000 square feet of field at both lower and upper fields at RADR, and from center to the right field post at Crystal. The fields are being treated, and repairs will be made in the fall.
  • Selectmen voted 5–0 to award the Maple Ridge paving bid to Pike Industries at $252,685. Two bids were submitted, the other being $256,902.
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