ALBANY - Larger off-road vehicles would be allowed on New York's public trails under legislation advancing in the state Assembly, which has raised an alarm among environmentalists who say it will lead to more erosion and pollution.
Bill sponsors disagree and say that raising the weight limit from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds for state-registered all-terrain vehicles will put safer, slower machines on trails and roads, while providing more people with access to public land. The width limit would remain 70 inches.
"It's going to allow a different type of riding," said Assemblywoman Addie Russell, a Watertown Democrat. It would authorize registration of all-terrain vehicles with side-by-side seating designed for up to three passengers and with seatbelts and roll-over bars. They cost about $15,000 to $20,000, have lower top speeds than currently registered ATVs, and are more likely to be ridden by families and older people, including those with mobility issues, she said.
Russell's bill, with 10 co-sponsors, has been approved in the past week by the Assembly's transportation and codes committees.
The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association said the larger ATVs have emerged in the past few years as a popular alternative. The group said sales and registrations would pump millions of dollars to the economy of New York, which appears to be the only state that doesn't recognize and allow the larger vehicles to be legally operated on public land.
The Adirondack Council and other environmental groups have asked Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to block the bill. Council Executive Director William Janeway said off-road ATVs and utility vehicles are tools for farming, logging and transportation across private lands, but don't belong on public recreation trails where people are hiking or biking.
"The state already suffers from the severe problem of ATV riders trespassing and damaging public and private lands," said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club. "With an out-of-control situation presented by the current misuse of smaller ATVs, the addition of larger, more powerful UTVs will only compound the problem. We need stronger law enforcement measures before we allow UTVs to be registered."
North Country Assemblywoman Janet Duprey, R-Peru, is a co-sponsor of the bill. A companion bill in the Senate was amended upon its third reading Monday. It also originated in northern New York, introduced by Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, and co-sponsored by Sens. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and Joe Griffo, R-Utica.
ATVs are not allowed in the state-owned Adirondack Forest Preserve, and this bill would not change that. Rather, it would allow larger vehicles on public lands where ATVs are allowed now.
The Lake Placid News staff contributed to this report.