Schoharie Central bans snowmobiles
By David Avitabile
A split Schoharie school board last week declined to give snowmobilers the right to cross school property.
Board members turned down a request from the Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club for a trail by a vote of two in favor and four against.
Resident David Toborg explained what the club would do if the school designated the trail but several board members were worried about increased liability and safety issues.
Mr. Toborg said snowmobilers wanted to use the new trails to get to the Mobil Mart for gas.
He said that the club uses state snowmobile association insurance and any official trail would also be covered.
Approved trails, he said, would be improved with new bridges, culverts and clearing of brush. The trails would be signed with trail markers, “stay on trails” signs and the hours that the trail could be used.
Mr. Toborg said the school board could set the hours.
The trail on school property would be routed the new soccer field.
He said the local trails are a form of economic development.
The sledders, he said, travel to local gas stations and restaurants. They “stay here and spend their money here.”
Board member Linda Isles was concerned about liability as well as coverage for damage to lawns and sidewalks.
Mr. Toborg said the state insurance would cover property owners and the club would “step up” and take care of any damage to properties.
Board member Bill Schlieder said he had a problem sanctioning a trail across school property.
In terms of liability, he said sanctioning a trail would put the district in a weaker position in regard to non-club members going across the trails and being injured.
He said that there are already non-club members using the property in the winter causing damage.
While the majority of club members are responsible, Mr. Schlieder said “there’s not a cop standing at the corner saying, ‘Are you a club member?’”
Mr. Toborg noted that if the trails were made official, it would be open to the public, not just club members.
During a snowy winter, Mr. Schlieder said, the trails could get busy, especially on the weekends.
The “homeowners might not feel as amenable after a few weekends,” he said.
Mr. Toborg said the trails would not be open to ATVs and added that the state insurance protects the landowner by putting the threshold of exposure almost impossible to attain.
Board President Chris Spies said that the state insurance does not cover a person struck by a snowmobile which is the “real liability.”
The school grounds are a public facility, he said, and the district has done what it can to promote use of the facility but he felt that the use of snowmobiles on school property was not appropriate.
That use, he said, was different from others.
The issues were “fairly clear,” and he said he was worried about the possible impact on the community.
Mr. Toborg said people already use the path and club members have been thinking about formulizing it for years.
Pam Newell and Carol Ann Wilber voted in favor of allowing the snowmobile use while voting against were Mr. Spies, Mr. Schlieder, Linda Isles and Edythe Schultz. Mark Quandt was absent.
Superintendent Brian Sherman, who did not comment during the discussion, said that district officials received several phone calls and e-mails before the meeting against the proposal.
On Thursday, Mr. Sherman said that the district attorney advised officials that to allow the snowmobiles would unnecessarily increase the risk exposure when it comes to safety and liability issues.
The response from the insurer was similar, Mr. Sherman said.
The district’s current policy does not have an exclusion for snowmobiles and therefore any incident would increase their liability risk and any claim would have a negative impact on the annual premium.
High school senior Luke Aulita made the original request at the November 19 meeting of the school board.
The requests were to allow snowmobiles to use the front portion of the school property off Main Street as a right-of-way and to use a route which borders the homes on Route 30 coming from a trail behind the jail, past the girls’ softball field, through the parking lot behind the high school and to the other trail along Main Street, which is essentially on a state highway right-of-way.