After a testy debate between Morrison Hill residents and snowmobilers, Barnet selectmen voted Monday to approve snowmobile use on a 250-foot section of Somers Hill Road.
This section will join a short part of Morrison Hill Road, recently found in a surprise resurfacing of a 1972 ordinance to be already open to snowmobiling.
Selectmen 30 years ago passed an ordinance approving the use of 17 roads in town for snowmobiling -- including the entire length of Morrison Hill Road. This was news to current selectmen.
Despite strong opposition by homeowners on Morrison Hill, selectmen voted 2-1 to keep the trail open. Selectman Stan Robinson voted "no," saying the trail could have been kept on private land.
Bayley Hazen Club trail master Ross Page said keeping the trail on private land would have meant cutting too many trees.
The other two selectmen approved the trail in the name of keeping it open for public use.
"We are talking about fairness to the community -- to the entire town," said Mona Marceau, chairman of the board of selectmen. Over 100 Barnet residents belong to one or another local Vermont Association of Snow Travelers clubs, while only around 10 homes exist on Morrison Hill, she said.
Those residents were visibly disappointed with the decision.
Beginning last month, Morrison Hill residents sent selectmen lengthy letters opposing a trail along the Class III road, citing noise, pollution, safety and threats of criminal activity.
Resident Ken Hammer cited the Hanover murders and nearby thefts as reasons not to allow snowmobilers on the road where he lives. "Citizens rely on government for security and due process," Hammer said.
Residents Steve Adler and Hammer strongly suggested the board acted improperly in reviewing the trail and that Marceau should remove herself from the debate due to conflict of interest.
"You should remove yourself because you are a member of VAST clubs," Hammer said.
She admitted she, her husband and son enjoy snowmobiling. She sat out of the discussion until town attorney David Willis called in, advising Marceau on the matter.
Willis advised it is not a conflict of interest to participate in a recreation, Marceau said.
Her experience with snowmobiling helps her be more informed on the matter, she said. "I know the value of what they (snowmobilers) bring and it & #039;s good. They are good people."
This move effectively keeps the VAST corridor open from Groton to Danville, at least for this winter.
Selectmen worded the motion that snowmobiling will be allowed for a year, after which it will be reviewed for the future.
Barnet resident Gary Briggs said those who live on the road appeared to think it was their road, rather than a public road.
VAST officials seemed relieved by the vote.
"The town officials did the right thing for the community and the benefit of all," said Page.