Group wants ATVs allowed on Eastern Charlotte roads

A New Brunswick ATV group is lobbying for all-terrain vehicles to be allowed on some roadways in order to connect trails and draw tourists to Charlotte County.

Residents of Eastern Charlotte, though, are concerned about noise levels, irresponsible drivers and a lack of bylaw enforcement.

Nearly 30 municipalities across New Brunswick allow ATVs to operate on their streets, according to Jacques Oullette, development co-ordinator with QuadNB, who presented to a large crowd at the Magaguadavic Centre in St. George on Tuesday night.

Most of those municipalities are in the north and eastern part of the province, he said, but there's a missed opportunity in southern New Brunswick to connect trails to amenities like gas and restaurants in town, along with connecting segments of trail systems to encourage more tourism.

"Just drive up north to the Acadian Peninsula and you'll see," he told the crowd. "Money from citizens down here get spent in Bathurst, up north."

Based on the number of all-terrain vehicles registered in the province, QuadNB estimates the recreation brings about $450 million in economic benefit to New Brunswick.

The regional economic impact is about $55 million, he said, and that doesn't include tourism.

ATV enthusiasts from across the border are "like wolves waiting at the boundary," he said, "they're anxious to cross into a new destination."

The province's Off-road Vehicle Act says ATVs can be driven on some designated areas of highway, and a municipality may enforce its own bylaws to govern ATV use on its own roads.

Municipalities can tool their own bylaws to suit specific needs, said Vance Johnson, trail coordinator with QuadNB. In some municipalities, locals are allowed to ATV on all roads, with tourists only allowed on certain sections.

"It's not cookie-cutter," he said. "Everyone can have a different bylaw."

QuadNB is suggesting the municipality open up a portion of Main Street and Riverview Avenue to ATVs, along with some roads in Blacks Harbour and other areas of Eastern Charlotte.

Nothing is set in stone, though. The municipality is in early stages of considering a bylaw, and the streets haven't been nailed down yet.

After that, a bylaw would be drafted, and public consultation would commence.

At Tuesday's public meeting, several residents from the St. George area expressed concern of irresponsible drivers "flying down" residential streets, along with the potential for the town's tranquil environment to be spoiled by noisy all-terrain vehicles.

Riverview Ave in St. George, in particular, has been a flashpoint for debate regarding speed limit enforcement in recent years.

In late 2021, Leslie Armstrong, then a member of St. George's town council, presented data from a speed radar machine which showed motorists were sometimes driving at a speed of 130 kilometres per hour along Riverview Ave, where the posted speed limit is 50 km/h. St. George's council of the day initially voted to purchase a speed radar sign to be set up at speeding "hot spots" around town, but the controversial vote was ultimately reversed.

Oullette said a bylaw to control ATV use in the town would give enforcement efforts more teeth, and furthermore, members of the ATV community frequently engage in self-policing the "five per cent" of irresponsible drivers.

"Members do our own enforcement," he said, "if they see someone behaving like an idiot, we stop them and say, 'We've fought hard to have access of these streets. If you can't behave properly, stay home.'"

Eastern Charlotte councillor Adam Hatt encouraged people at the meeting to think bigger and consider tourism possibilities for the town. It's bigger than just connecting trail systems within the region, he said.

"I'm not one to get on a plane and go south, I prefer to spend my money in this province," he said. "All these businesses will prosper, I've seen it."

Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal