By Craig Westcott/August 26, 2021
What looked like a sure thing last month when Bay Roberts council voted to move ahead on a pilot project to allow ATVs to drive through town turned out to be anything but at this month’s meeting when plans to adopt regulations for the vehicles stalled over an unexpected bump involving an agreement the town signed 24 years ago.
Deputy Mayor Walter Yetman, who chaired the August 17 meeting in place of Mayor Philip Wood, who is recovering from surgery, had to corral his colleagues through two testy debates concerning the issue.
The exchanges were sparked by a report from chief administrative officer Nigel Black on the status of the town’s proposed ATV regulations.
Black noted that since the July council meeting, work on the project has progressed with additional signage ordered for the two trails and further surveys conducted at the request of council.
“And we’ve also reached out to the communities that have similar routes through their communities and similar regulations,” Black said. “The director of protective services has drafted a potential set of recreational vehicle regulations for you, and I think they basically encompass the intent of the proposal as we’ve discussed it multiple times.”
But Black acknowledged there have been a number of e-mails exchanged by former members of what used to be a joint management committee for the towns of Bay Roberts and Spaniard’s Bay, as well as some residents, and an official with the provincial government. The e-mails raised questions about the Shearstown estuary, which would be affected by the trailway, and broached the status of an agreement between the two towns and the province regarding the estuary.
“Just for clarity, we do have a joint management estuary agreement that dates back to 1997 where the two towns agreed to co-manage that area,” said Black. “It’s a fair-sized area… That agreement is fairly high level. It doesn’t get into what you can and can’t do in the estuary. It talks about the two towns and the province working cooperatively to establish guidelines for habitat management and these sorts of things… What I will say is that we signed the agreement in 1997; we didn’t actually block off the use of ATVs until 2015. So, there was a long period where we didn’t have that regulation in place, so it (ATV use) wasn’t formally allowed, but it also wasn’t not allowed.”
One thing that did emerge from the e-mails, Black said, is that the provincial government’s Wildlife Division advised that if there is going to be change or development within the estuary, the town should consult with the Province and also have a 30 day public consultation period.
“Now, I’ve looked at the agreement,” said Black. “There is no reference to any 30 day requirements or anything like that.”
The CAO said both towns have made initial efforts to allow ATV use in the area. Spaniard’s Bay has made it conditional on getting approval from the Province. Bay Roberts hasn’t taken that step, but could, Black added.
The CAO said his recommendation, in light of these developments, is that Bay Roberts consult with the Province and schedule time for public consultations.
Yetman suggested it would be proper due diligence on the part of council to follow through with the Province and to meet with Spaniard’s Bay, given that the joint management committee hasn’t met in five or seven years.
Black said it hasn’t been that long, but he admitted the committee itself no longer exists because many of the members are no longer involved with council, or even living in the area, in some cases.
Yetman then requested a motion from the floor to table the ATV regulations for now and to plan a meeting with Spaniard’s Bay and maybe come up with a new joint committee. “They also held off on their decision to move ahead with it (ATV use) until they get approval from the Province,” the deputy mayor noted.
Councillor Geoff Seymour pointed out council will have to decide who will represent Bay Roberts in the discussions. “I did serve there (on the previous joint management committee) for two years, so I’ll be running to sit on the committee (again),” he said.
Seymour added that one of the e-mails from a Spaniard’s Bay councillor indicated that town has already approved ATV use.
“We have too, but the problem is neither one of us have gone to government and we’re being told now that we’re being required to do that,” Black said.
Councillor Frank Deering then made a motion to table Bay Roberts’ ATV regulations until the town gets more clarity from government.
“I’m disappointed,” said councillor Dean Franey. “We’ve spent a lot of time and put a lot of work into this. There are many residents in this town who were looking forward to this.”
“Councillor Franey, it’s not a dead issue,” cautioned Deputy Mayor Yetman. “We have to do this.”
Franey said he realized that. But the first meeting on the pilot project was back this past winter. “We definitely haven’t rushed into it,” he argued.
Councillor Seymour said the concerns being raised in the e-mails are just as important as the ones being raised by people for the trailway.
“I’m not saying they’re not,” said Franey.
“These people who are coming forward now brought forward valid points that were not even being looked at,” said Seymour. “This 1997 agreement where three parties signed on, nobody was even informed of that.”
Banging the gavel to restore order, Deputy Mayor Yetman allowed that while the motion made at the July meeting to approve the pilot project passed unanimously, “right now we have these issues that came up in the past couple of days and we need to deal with them.”
Put to a vote, the motion to table the regulations for now was carried.
“Thank you very much everybody, it was a great discussion,” said Yetman. “Points were taken. There was lots of passion there. We respect everybody’s opinion about different issues.”
But Yetman’s hope of putting the matter to bed was dashed several minutes later when council moved on to correspondence. There the topic of ATV use came up again, this time in the form of a letter from a resident who is concerned about the proposed routes for the trailway. Councillor Deering said setting aside the letters from residents who are opposed to ATV use in town, the letters from residents who want a trailway make it clear they don’t like the proposed routes. He suggested council look for a different ATV path through Bay Roberts.
“I think while we’ve got it on hold, it’s a good chance for us to even consider a third route,” said Deering. “The reason why we’re doing this was to bring people to our town. Right now, most of the town is going to be bypassed with either route we’re taking. Maybe we can come up with something else that can join Conception Bay North with the trailways and we’ll have done our part.”
That brought Seymour back into the fray. “I want to stress again that I am not opposed to Bay Roberts’ involvement in the trailway whatsoever,” said Seymour. “But to me, it’s got to be something that works for the town and for the residents and taxpayers. Right now it’s like we’re trying to put a square peg in a round hole. It’s got to be something that works for people. And I’m with Frank on this – I don’t like these routes, to be honest. I’ve stressed that from the start. I’m not against the trailway, but I don’t like putting bikes in parks, playgrounds and residential areas, I’m sorry.”
CAO Black said the Town can look at other routes, but there are a limited number of routes that will bring ATV riders into the community, and all of them involve some travel through residential areas.
Seymour said Bay Roberts’ situation is different than that of Spaniard’s Bay. “The rail bed down there is very intact,” said Seymour. “There, the impact on residential streets in minimal.”
With a couple of other councillors raising their voices with Seymour to counter his points, Yetman was compelled to intervene and restore order again.
“We have to concentrate on the task at hand,” said the deputy mayor. “Councillor Deering said it would be a good time, considering this letter, to have a look at a different route, or possibly different routes. I’m going to stick with that. What’s your feelings on that?”
Taking stock of the room, Yetman observed everybody seemed to be in general agreement with that idea. He asked for guidance on the best way of accomplishing it, to which someone suggested it go back to the planning committee for discussion.
Yetman then called for a motion to do just that. It passed unanimously.
Taken together, the two motions passed last week mean that while Bay Roberts has approved it’s ATV pilot project, the regulations to govern ATV use have been put on hold while council broaches the issue of ATV use inside the Shearstown Estuary with the Province and the Town of Spaniard’s Bay. In the interim, the town will also reconsider the two planned routes through Bay Roberts to see if there is an alternative that will appeal both to those opposed to ATVs on town streets and those who welcome their presence.