Byram adds teeth to ATV penalties

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:46

    BYRAM-No one was going to lose their land; that, they tried to assure everyone. No one had anything against ATVs, either; that, they wanted to make perfectly clear. And no one was going to go to jail for driving an ATV; that, they could only convey in so many words. Still, there was plenty of commotion this week in Byram, when the township council unanimously approved an ordinance that put more teeth in existing trespassing laws by stiffening fines for the use of all-terrain vehicles on public park lands and open space. "This just strictly prohibits the use of any motorized vehicle on town land," Councilwoman Donna Griff said before a packed township council meeting. "Be aware of where you are riding and get permission -- plain and simple. That's the law." The revised ordinance increases the penalty for the use of unauthorized vehicles -- motor bikes, mini bikes, motorcycles, snowmobiles, go-carts, tractors, and even riding mowers n on township-owned property to a maximum of $1,250 and the cost of damages, and up to 10 days in jail. Byram officials said public land includes C.O. Johnson Park and the Mansfield bike trails. ATVs have been banned for quite some time from township- and state-owned land, including the Lackawanna "cutoff," a popular abandoned railroad bed for riders that stretches through the center of town. "ATVs have no place to ride legally; that's the problem," said Byram resident Mike Walsh. "The solution is not to stiffen the penalties. Part of the solution is to recognize a large portion of the township wants to use ATVs. There are ATV riders in Byram. People live out here because they want to use ATVs." Griff acknowledged that the availability of land for ATV use in Byram is extremely limited, and said the council is open to acquiring property for riders to legally use the small, three- or nfour-wheel, all-terrain vehicles that have been a common sight within the township borders. "A lot of trails that exist go through private property," said Griff. "If we could find an area of open space good for ATVs without creating environmental concerns, we would promote that." Byram officials haven't had much success. Councilman Earl Riley suggested an area near a quarry behind the ShopRite plaza on Route 206 might someday work for that purpose. According to Byram officials, state regulations have made the search that much more difficult in a town noted for its rugged natural landscapes of streams, wetlands, lakes, forests, and deep slopes; environmental elements all suited to ATV thrill seekers. "There's some really sensitive land in Byram," said resident Scott Olsen, addressing the council. "That's what gets people upset." Lou Esposito owns some of that land in Byram. Although he said he has nothing against ATVs; he even owns one, Esposito explained there are some 50 trails on his land which are used by ATV riders without his permission. "It just doesn't make any sense to me," said Esposito, who claims to have seen gates to his property destroyed by ATVs. "How would you feel? If you don't own the land, how can you even think about going on someone else's land and riding? If you don't own it, stay off of it." Byram resident Bret Klingener works at a fish hatchery. He doesn't believe ATVs are creating as much environmental havoc as everyone might have said; he even knows some benefits. Klingener said he likes to use his ATV to take his young son ice fishing on Cranberry Lake. "As taxpayers, we should have an avenue to use the land," he said. "We're not out to destroy the land. Some of us are there to enjoy the woods and enjoy views up on the tracks." ATV enthusiasts fear the Byram ordinance and others like it are part of a growing campaign being mounted throughout the state to prevent access to trails for riding. "There's going to be a snowball effect," said Mark Moschella, a seasonal resident and ATV recreational rider. "There will be absolutely nowhere to ride ATVs at all. We'll be forced to go out of state and that's what we're trying to prevent. We're not against these ordinances, it's proper to protect the land, but we have rights, too. We want to be able to ride ATVs legally and safely." Byram resident Dave Shepherd said he legally uses an ATV on private property; even encourages the council to come out and take a ride. He would like to see a committee formed to study the issue so that any future amendments to ATV ordinances can be reasonably agreed upon. "A lot of people didn't really know what was going on," said Shepherd. "We felt we were being persecuted for riding ATVs because some of us do ride them legally on private property that we have permission for. We felt Byram was banning them from the town. And now we found that we have a council that is going to work with us."