By Kellen M. Quigley
As snowmobiling season gets underway in Western New York, town officials in Concord are discussing the safety on one new trail that goes through the heart of the town.
At the latest Concord Town Board meeting Dec. 12, council William Snyder expressed concern with a couple of issues with the use of the Rails to Trails route, including the unauthorized building of a bridge for snowmobilers near Sharp Street without the town’s knowledge.
“As a policy-setting board, we’ve used a certain logic to pass codes,” he said. “An example would be a recent code we passed to require a private homeowner on his own property to get a permit to shingle his 10-by-10 shed roof in his back yard. But we’re going to allow a bridge to be constructed that’s going to be used by the public, motor vehicles crossing it, with no permit, no inspection, nothing?”
Snyder said he is unsure of the legal standing of the town or what the authority would be in enforcing it, but suggested temporarily closing the bridge as an option of what should be done until the town receives clarification and a recommendation from the planning board.
“I did not anticipate a snowmobile trail opening on this trial and a bridge being constructed. It was a total surprise to me,” he said.
Town attorney Brian Attea said although it makes sense from a logical standpoint, legally the town could have to find a code provision that applies to the bridge from a public safety standpoint because the bridge may not fit the definition of a building or structure.
“There’s a number of issues with the trail, one is going right back to the beginning, the resolution we adopted in 2008,” Snyder said. “We have landowners, taxpayers that we represent in the town of Concord that live adjacent to the railroad property who are adamantly against having a snowmobile highway in their backyard. Many of them didn’t want a walking trail and now it’s turning into a snowmobile trail.”
Snyder said his duty is to represent the residents and taxpayers of the town who don’t want it, not necessarily the snowmobile club who would use the trial.
“I understand there is an agreement between the railroad and the Rails to Trails organization,” he said. “There’s been lobbying action and the state is involved, but we have yet to see a contract, a legal agreement. We have no idea what it says, we have no idea where our standing is as the municipality fits into it, whether we have any say or not. But I at least think we need to see that agreement.”
Snyder said during the town’s recent Master Plan process, there were many town residents who attended public meetings on the plan who expressed concern with the Rails to Trails project. He said while the project is outlined in the plan, a number of things that were supposed to take place before the trail is open hadn’t been completed.
“It was made clear by the engineering firm that helped us put it together that the municipality would have a say in whether a trail like that opens and gave specific examples where they didn’t open because there were these types of concerns,” he said. “I think when you start adding all these things together, at a minimum there is a concern and I think we have to put the brakes on it somehow until we get some of these questions answered.”
For a next step, Snyder suggested the town pursue being able to look at the agreement between the railroad and Rails to Trails. Because the trail does border and goes through other private property parcels, Attea said the town has a case for trying to read the contract.
“Do we have the authority to tell somebody that they can’t use private property that they’ve gotten permission for?” asked councilman Kenneth Zittel. “I can see the safety part, but I don’t know. We can state our opinion, but do we have any teeth?”
Unless there is a justifiable code provision or law, Attea said the town wouldn’t be in the position to tell a private landowner who can and can’t cross the private property, unless there is a safety concern.
“It’s not like you’re necessarily stretching or straining to find a reason, but the simple answer is you wouldn’t be in a position unless there was something under the code or state law or county code that put the town in the position where they do have the legal authority to take a position,” he said.
Although his primary focus is on representing the town and the town’s residents, Snyder said he is not against the snowmobile club.
“I know it’s not popular to take up a position against the snowmobile club. There’s a lot of members of the snowmobile club and they do a lot of good things,” he added. “There’s reasons to open the trail, especially under the original intent as a walking trail.”