Ready, set, idle…

By Craig Westcott

CBS council gave approval Tuesday to a new set of regulations that will allow ATVs on several public streets to access trails in the backcountry, but it will still take permission from the Province before the off-roaders can legally take their machines onto those roads.

Once the provincial government approves the Town’s decision, ATV drivers will be able to drive on a large portion of Anchorage Road and Chute Place in Long Pond, and most of Seal Cove Road, Garden Road and Indian Pond Road in the west end. They will also be permitted to drive on roads connected to those routes, as long as they are within one km of the four ATV approved roads.

The pilot project will run from May 15 to October 15, assuming the Province signs off before the start of that time period. Councillors cautioned that depending on the behaviour of ATV drivers, and responses from residents and regular motorists in those areas, the project can be cancelled at any time.

Councillor-at-Large Paul Connors, who has been working on the project with a committee of ATV enthusiasts for years, welcomed the decision. Every other councillor who spoke expressed cautious optimism.

“There’s been lots of discussion around the table with council,” said Deputy Mayor Andrea Gosse. “These regulations cover what qualifies as an ATV vehicle and what doesn’t, things like enforcement, rules of operation, times of operation, all those things. The goal of the regulations is for safety, for the ATV users to use their vehicles in a safe manner.”

Gosse said dirt bikes are still illegal. “There are no roads that two-wheel dirt bikes are permitted on under our regulations, or the provincial regulations,” she said. “These (rules are for) three and four wheeled recreation vehicles and you must have insurance, you must have a licence, you must wear a helmet, and you must abide by the rules.”

Ward 3 councilor Gerard Tilley admitted he wrestled with the decision to support the new rules.

“We put these regulations in for a reason and that is to try to protect all the residents of Conception Bay South,” Tilley said. “Twenty years ago, or even 10 years ago did we ever think that we would see all terrain vehicles operating on the streets (legally) in CBS? Probably not, right? But I’m willing to see what the pilot project brings. Hopefully it will be more good than the not so good. One of the key things I’d like to see is the law abiding people who are going to follow these rules and regulations might be able to take the not so good people under their wings and try to straighten them out… And again, folks, this is a pilot project. We need some data just to say ‘is this a good thing, or is this not a good thing’ for Conception Bay South. We’re willing to take that chance for a few months and see where we go from there.”

Mayor Darrin Bent pointed out council held two public consultations to explain the proposed regulations to the public and give residents an opportunity to have their say.

“We heard loud and clear from a number of residents,” Bent said. “We took submissions, and those submissions were sent around and shared with all of council… One thing I will say is that we’re not going down a path that has not been gone down by other municipalities. We’re not striking out and doing something completely different or new. We’re following what appears to be a trend, not only across our province, but across the country, really. We have many, many ATV users in our town who have been asking for some opening of rules to allow them to enjoy their pastime easier.”

Bent said the catalyst for the changes happened in 2022 when the Province brought in a new Off Road Vehicles Act.

“And in that Act they allowed ATV users – properly licenced, properly insured, properly outfitted – to ride on roadways in our province as long they were within one kilometre of an accepted or approved trailway for ATVs,” Bent said.

In view of that, Bent said, council decided to look at expanding the areas for local ATV riders outside the one km limit so that they can access approved trails from the town.

“So, we’ve decided to do that in two areas as a pilot project,” Bent said. “We’re going to monitor it, we’re going to listen to the feedback of the local residents in those areas, and other areas, that are going to see more ATV use regardless, because of this.”

Bent said as a result of all the work that went into preparing the pilot project, some people were informed about existing rules for ATVs that they may not have been aware of.

“One of the things I had to consider, along with the concerns of residents, is the big concern of people doing things illegally,” Bent said. “Using ATVs in an unsafe manner, speeding, dirt bikes and all these things. But the people who are doing things illegally now are not the people we’re aiming at with these rules. These rules are opened up for responsible – and we know the vast, vast majority of ATV users are responsible, contributing members of our town – and we didn’t want to hold them back if there was no real reason to do. You don’t want to punish the innocent for the actions of those who would be the guilty. So, we’re going to go down this road, literally, of ATV use on a couple of streets, and areas – cul de sacs and so forth off those areas – and see how it goes. And it’s in the hands of the ATV users in those areas, and the people who avail of those streets, to let us know if they can manage it properly, follow the rules and not cause grief and disruption and safety concerns beyond what are already there now for the residents in those areas. And if that’s what happens, then I look forward to this process. If it’s not what happens, council has the right and the ability to pull back on this pilot project at any time, and I hope that’s not what happens, and I don’t believe that’s what’s going to happen. But it’s up to the people who use this… I think most of the ATV users that we spoke to through this process understand that this is a privilege, not a right, and that people here around this table have the right to revoke that if it isn’t working.”

Bent added the ATV riders group has made a commitment to visit schools in town to educate young people about the proper use of ATVs and the importance of following the rules.

“Also, we will be alerting the RNC through this process of what’s happening, and we’ve met with the chief and the deputies some months ago and talked about this and what we were thinking about doing,” said the mayor. “They told us that they hadn’t seen any issues in other places that they have patrolled above the norm. But they are aware, and we’ll be asking them to keep an eye on these areas specifically, because of what we are doing. Because to be honest with you, I think we all want it to succeed. But it has to succeed on its own. We can’t make it succeed.”

Ward 1 councillor Shelley Moores said she attended the first information session and wants to let those who are not in favour of the change to know that “we really did hear your safety concerns, and I really think there is a good handle on your concerns in the regulations that have been developed. We want what’s best and safest for our residents too… I think if everyone follows the rules it should go well. It is a pilot project, and if it doesn’t work out, then it will stop. But hopefully it will work, and everyone will follow the rules and we can have a safe environment in our community for ATV riders.”

Deputy Mayor Gosse reiterated the warning to ATV users to make the pilot project a success.

“When we’re ready to open this up, we just hope that it’s a safe and enjoyable experience,” Gosse said. “And if it’s not, we’ll just pull the plug.”

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