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Author Topic: Get fined for riding an ATV on your own land in NH  (Read 3023 times)

M249SAW

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Get fined for riding an ATV on your own land in NH
« on: July 07, 2003, 11:46:52 pm »

By SYDNEY B. LEAVENS
Monitor staff

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Barnstead, New Hampshire

BARNSTEAD - A man accused of damaging wetlands by allowing dozens of four-wheelers to go "mud-bogging" on his Barnstead property has settled with the state for $9,000. His lawyer believes this is the first case to apply state wetlands laws to the use of four-wheelers in marshes.

When Thomas Florence Jr. and about 40 others rode four-wheelers on Easter weekend last year, they rode through about an acre of marshy land on his 70-acre property. State officials said the damage caused by the vehicles meets the definition of dredging and filling wetlands under state law. Florence did not have a permit to dredge or fill and thus committed a wetlands violation, Assistant Attorney General Christopher Helms said.

"At the time of the investigation, there was evidence of wrenching of the material, redepositing the material, digging down in the wetlands," Helms said. "We feel that the settlement is reasonable."

No one has ever requested a wetlands permit for "mud-bogging," according to the attorney general's office. Florence's lawyer, Tom Quarles of Devine, Millimet & Branch in Manchester, said this is the first mud-bogging wetlands case of which he is aware.

Quarles said his client did not realize that he and the other riders could be breaking the law. Once Florence knew that, Quarles said, he cooperated with the state throughout the investigation.

Quarles said it is questionable whether the state could have shown damage to the wetlands; he said Florence settled the case only to avoid costly litigation.

"If we'd gone forward, we had a wetlands scientist who would have said that . . . natural attenuation . . . had basically restored the wetlands to its pre-mud-bogging-incident condition," Quarles said.

According to Quarles, Florence had not intended to host most of the 40 riders who showed up on his property that day. He'd made plans to spend the holiday riding with a couple of friends on the undeveloped land, but a few cell phone calls led to a situation beyond his control.

"Word got out beyond Mr. Florence's group that this would be a good spot to go four-wheeling that day," Quarles said. "There were many, many uninvited riders."

Several of those riders cut across a beaver pond and marshy area on the property, a little more than a half-acre of the terrain. Neither Quarles nor Helms is sure exactly how many did.

A neighbor who works for the Department of Environmental Services reported the incident at work the next day. Both the neighbor and the police, who also responded to the scene that Sunday, said they saw about 40 vehicles on Florence's land.

State officials who examined the wetlands for damage that week found large ruts in the marsh, along with a plume of muddy sediment emptying into a nearby tributary stream, Helms said. (Quarles said he has seen no photographs to verify that the stream of mud existed.)

The settlement suspends $5,000 of Florence's fine if he does not violate the state's wetlands laws for one year. It also requires Florence to post signs on the property that provide information about avoiding wetlands and stream banks when using off-road vehicles.

Florence immediately blocked access to his property, Quarles said. He later sold it, but with the stipulation that the new owner also post the signs agreed on in the settlement.

Under state law, a person found violating wetlands regulations can be fined up to $10,000 a day. The state did not seek a larger settlement in this case, Helms said, because Florence cooperated and because he did not make money from the event.

"And the area is starting to restore itself, which is good, of course," he added.
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