For Off-Roaders The Possibility Of An Expensive Incentive To Behave

May 19, 2016

New Hampshire Off Highway Vehicle Association official Harry Brown: "We favor making people behave." Photo by Chris Jensen for NHPR.

A bill that would allow landowners to sue for treble damages and legal fees for damage caused by off-road vehicles or dumping is heading to Governor Hassan’s desk.

The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association asked for the legislation, saying  illegal dumping or damage from off-highway vehicles has become a serious problem, says executive director Jasen Stock.

“The way the laws are written much of the duty for cleanup and restoration point to an agency of one type or another," he said.

The bill - HB 1298 - gives landowners the right to take the party being blamed to Superior Court. Then, they could seek up to three times the cost of repairs – as well as legal fees.

The bill covers illegal dumping as well as damage caused by off-highway vehicles including ATVs, snowmobiles and conventional motor vehicles such as sport utilities and pickups.

While the timber owners pushed for the bill it could be used by any landowner.

Rep. Gene Chandler of Bartlett is the primary sponsor. He says a major concern is that landowners who permit activities such as the Ride the Wilds ATV network in the North Country might change their minds.

“Owners are thinking about posting, which would be devastating to our economy in the state, so we needed to do something and this bill, I think addresses that," he said.

The bill has the support of agencies including Fish and Game and the Trails Bureau. It is also favored by New Hampshire Off Highway Vehicle Association, says Harry Brown, a member of its board of directors.

“The New Hampshire Timberland Owners are the people that allow us to ride on their property. And, we take that as a privilege. We favor making people behave," Brown said.

Rep. Jack Flanagan of Brookline figures he is probably the bill’s only opponent. He says the state already caters too much to the big timberland owners and he considers this special treatment. He's is also concerned, he said, that harsh penalties could discourage tourists.