BY BUD WILKINSON | REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
Dirt bike and quad enthusiasts yearning for places to ride in Connecticut may get their dreams fulfilled by summer if the state legislature acts on a new bill specifically designed to end 24 years of growing frustration on the part of off-road riders.
The General Assembly's Environment Committee plans a hearing at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford to get public comment on newly proposed Bill No. 5417. If passed, the bill would finally force the state Department of Environmental Protection to set aside state land for use by all-terrain vehicles "not later than July 1, 2010." The new bill effectively gives the DEP a hard deadline for actually implementing a law the legislature passed in 1986 that ordered that the agency "shall make available" state land for ATV use, but which the D.E.P. has failed to do.
"This bill piggybacks on the original law that was passed," Lewis I. Davidson explained Friday, calling it a "fairly good proposal" that can potentially "bring closure" to the situation. Davidson is president of the Connecticut Motorsports Business Association.
Proposed Bill No. 5417, which was introduced this week, also requires that all ATVs be registered with the receipts being used "for the purpose of establishing trails" and that all riders using those state trails be required to be certified.
As a consequence of this bill being introduced, an earlier bill, Proposed Bill No. 5078, which would have created an all-terrain division within the D.E.P. for the creation and maintenance of trails, has been scrapped.
The C.M.B.A. is now urging that a two-tier registration be enacted. Off-road riders would pay $70 for a two-year registration, enabling them to ride on state land, while those who operate ATVs on their own property, on constructions sites or for municipalities would pay $20.
The two-year registration would provide the seed money for getting whatever land that's selected in shape for use by ATVers.
The organization is also pushing for trail use fees of $10 per day or $50 annually.
The C.M.B.A. is urging all of its members as well as off-road riders desiring legal places to ride in Connecticut to attend Friday's hearing and to speak out in favor of the bill.
"We'd like to see all ATV enthusiasts come to the hearing to listen to what the Environment Committee has to say, to listen to what C.M.B.A. has to say. Everybody can come and voice their opinion and voice their frustrations for not having a place to ride for 24 years," said Davidson, who expressed optimism that ATVers may finally get land to ride on. "We are a lot further than we have ever, ever been," he said.
However, should the bill fail and land not be set aside, Davidson said the C.M.B.A. won't give up. "We do have a backup plan," said Davidson. "We are looking at different legal issues. One would be to bring suit against the commissioner of the D.E.P."