KINGFIELD — The Maine Department of Transportation has granted permission for a long-awaited ATV access route through town.

On Wednesday afternoon, selectmen received the letter of approval from Region 3 Traffic Engineer Gene Uhuad, settling an issue that had become a heated controversy, even after a town meeting vote approved the downtown route.

Two years ago, selectmen began the process of mapping possible access to connect two ATV trailheads on opposite sides of town. The Kingfield Quad Runners ATV club proposed several access routes through several parts of town. One possible route, using densely residential High and School streets, was rejected because of additional and more hazardous crossings for riders. Selectmen ultimately agreed to present voters with a plan for Route 27 and Route 142, and the board held a public hearing for voters before the January special town meeting.

The warrant article was among several that voters had to approve, including a change in transfer station designation, payment of a debt, and funding of the bus that takes skiers to Sugarloaf. At the meeting, voters approved the ATV route for a one-year trial, but soon after the town meeting vote, Uhuad received a half-dozen e-mails from people opposed to the decision.

“If we get six requests for the same issue, then we are obligated to look into the matter,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t grant the permits, but it does mean that we will look at everything. This is a very sensitive issue around the state.”

Selectmen requested copies of those e-mail complaints, including claims that nonresidents were not allowed to participate, that one resident was not allowed to speak, that young children would be riding ATVs through town, that the routes had a history of accidents, and that the town meeting was held at the request of the ATV club. Of the six e-mails, board Chairman Heather Moody said, only four were from unique addresses, and two were from nonresidents.

On Feb. 9, selectmen responded to Uhuad with a three-page letter addressing the e-mail claims. The MDOT reported that Route 27 in downtown Kingfield has had few accidents, and those accidents happened in winter traffic.

“ATV access will not be permitted on Route 27 during the winter months,” selectmen wrote. “State law does not permit children under the ages 16 to use this access route, so no children will be operating on said routes.”

The issue had been discussed for many months in selectmen’s meetings and public hearings, they noted, and “voters felt that they had all the information that was needed.”

Uhuad then determined that he had sufficient grounds to approve the selectmen’s and ATV club’s request.

ATVs will be allowed to use the travel lanes on Main Street and Depot Street and must park only in designated areas, Uhuad said. The MDOT will install clearly-marked route signs, and selectmen must provide him with dates and times that the access routes will be open and include contact information for residents with concerns. Riders must follow all traffic laws, including speed limits, he said.

Letters to local newspapers indicated some townspeople thought protesters had reversed the MDOT’s decision and that Uhuad had said he would rule against the access route. Moody suggested everyone take a deep breath on both sides before making more accusations.

“The townspeople have voted on the issue, and the selectman stand by this vote and the public process that led to it,” she said.

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