A special meeting of town council to adopt the terms of reference for the promised trail use committee turned into a heated debate last Thursday between councillors and members of the ATV community.
“You don’t get anywhere with raised voices,” said Mayor Frank Armitage. Following the meeting ATV lobbiests said they felt they were not treated respectfully.
Council adopted the terms of reference, and will advertise for members of the public to sit on the committee.
The committee will consist of the mayor or his designate, two councillors, four community members from Princeton and three community members from the regional district’s Area H.
Area H director Bob Coyne is also invited to sit on the committee.
The committee terms of reference was the only item on the meeting agenda, but the discussion quickly devolved to a debate about bylaw 925, which will enforce the four-year-old motorized vehicle ban on the KVR in town limits.
“There is not a hold on the bylaw,” said Armitage. “The bylaw will go through.”
About 15 people crowded into the small boardroom at town hall. The majority of people attending the meeting live outside the town, in Area H.
ATV enthusiast Tom Guerster said the town is “ramming this down our throats.”
He accused council of fabricating a report of a 2013 recreation survey that indicated support in town for non-motorized use of the KVR.
“I take offense at the comment,” said Armitage. “Can we not solve this as gentle people?”
Geurster repeatedly said council is not respecting the wishes of the electorate.
“Every single one of you are doing wrong to the people of Princeton,” said Guerster. “You are just not listening…you will go into history as someone who is not listening and who doesn’t care.”
According to the terms of reference the goal of the committee is “to provide advice to council and staff with respect to the development viability of designated trails, for the use of off road vehicles. A designated trail does not include the Trans Canada Trail within the town boundaries.”
The committee will be charged to investigate routes, safety, noise and dust control, maintenance, ground cover and funding for a designated off road vehicle trail.
The largest section of the terms of reference covers code of conduct for committee members, who are invited to apply positions.
The code of conduct section lists 10 expectations including that members will respect the rights and dignity of others, behave with appropriate decorum and respect the decisions of the majority or resign from the committee.
Osprey Lake resident Rob Miller said he’s “suspicious” of the committee and council’s goals.
“You could select people who are leaning towards your own agenda,” said Miller. “I’m not saying it’s going to happen but it’s a possibility.”
Miller also complained that in previous meetings with council, he and other ATV representatives were not treated respectfully.
Armitage countered this issue has led to council “being abused to the nth degree…with no foundation.”
The discussion between councillors and the ATVers took place after the formal meeting was adjourned, when the mayor invited questions. After several loud exchanges, councillor Jerome Tjerkstra moved to end the session, although it continued for several minutes.
Councillor Kim Maynard expressed disappointment with the tone of the discussion. “If we are going to have this negativity, people speaking loudly and out of turn it [the committee] is going to go nowhere.”
Ed Vermette, who has spearheaded much of the protest against bylaw 925, asked only one question during the meeting, regarding the possibility of designating a chair for someone to represent the business community.
In an interview on the weekend Vermette said he reluctant to put his name forward for a seat on the committee.
“As it sits I don’t think I want to and the reason I don’t want to is because of the way council is being treated by the public,” he said. “I’m a diplomatic guy, if somebody wants to talk to me I will talk to them, but I will not be yelled at. I can’t allow council to treat people like that.”
Vermette acknowledged that some members of the ATV have directed hurtful and aggressive comments towards town council using social media.
“Yes, there has. But I am not advocating that and I’ve never been a part of that,” he said.
He said he has only a “thin hope” that the proposed committee will be successful. “I not saying that it will end up a lopsided committee but it has that possibility.”