RUMFORD — A path between Bean Brook and Maple Street properties is now off limits to all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes that have been ridden on it for decades.
Bill and Peggy Malley of Maple Street decided to post their land on both sides of the path — known as Oak Street Extension — after learning last week that they own the land and not the town.
“We're not granting permission for people to pass through it, because we own property on both sides,” Bill Malley told selectmen at their July 1 board meeting. “Hopefully, something can be worked out elsewhere.”
That came after Town Manager Carlo Puiia read the opinion of town attorney Thomas Carey.
At the board's June 17 meeting, the Malleys sought help from selectmen to curb noise and unruliness by ATV and dirt bike riders they claimed were breaking town law by riding within 200 feet of their home. That's also a state law.
Because they said the problem had recently worsened in the 30 years they've lived there, the Malleys asked selectmen to ban ATVS and dirt bikes from using Oak Street Extension.
Selectmen, however, tabled the matter to their July 1 meeting, to run it past Carey before taking action.
At last week's meeting, Puiia, reading state law, said that without landowner permission, ATVs are limited to approved trails only.
The statute also states that an ATV can be operated on a portion of a public way, which is defined as a right of way over which the general public has a right to pass, Puiia said.
Additionally, the law states that a person may not operate an ATV within 200 feet of a dwelling unless it is a public way.
Carey said Oak Street Extension isn't an approved trail or a public way.
It's what's known as a paper street, meaning it's laid out only on paper as a street, but it was never physically made into a street.
“A paper street is not a public way,” Carey said. “A paper street is only a potential indication of land of the town to be used as a street.
“The Oak Street Extension is a paper street. So, although it has the potential to become a public way, it does not become one until the town reserves that right and votes to accept that street as a town way, which the town has not done to my knowledge.”
Carey said that having reviewed state statutes concerning ATVs and definitions of a public way and paper streets, “It is my opinion that Oak Street Extension is owned by private landowners.”
“The town has no ownership of the property for the purposes of controlling ATV access, and only the right to use it as a street upon town vote,” he said. “As a result, it is the landowners who will decide whether or not to give permission to ATVs.”
“It's very much his opinion that we don't have the right to post it, but those who have lots next to it have the right to either post it or allow it,” Puiia said.
Peggy Malley then sought clarification from Puiia.
“Since it's not a public way, then it's illegal to ride within 200 feet of our house?”
“Yes,” Puiia replied.
“Then we will be posting it,” both Malleys said.