A new state police snowmobile patrol initiative was conceived to help ensure safer snowmobiling on local trails and lakes, but the flurry of tickets written Jan. 23-24 on the Great Sacandaga Lake has generated some criticism.
A team of four troopers and two conservation officers wrote about 30 tickets that weekend as the lake was being used as the venue for an ice fishing contest and snowmobile “fun run.”
Sgt. Andrew W. Donato, one of the patrol organizers, said the state police are trying to be proactive and serve as a deterrent to the type of riding that has led to serious accidents and even fatalities in past seasons on the lake.
“Hopefully, the people see the police out there and make good choices,” Donato said.
The tickets written by the state police, he said, included citations for no helmets and unregistered or uninsured sleds. The conservation officers cited others for fishing without a license.
Fulton County Clerk William Eschler, a lake area resident and a snowmobiler, said he considers many of the tickets questionable. One other local official, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said he believes the state police snowmobile patrol is part of a broader strategy to generate revenue for the state during the current fiscal crisis.
State police spokeswoman Maureen Tuffey discounted the revenue theory.
“We have never taken any direction from anyone in regard to budget,” she said.
“The focus of state police vehicle enforcement efforts is directed at safety. Revenue generation for the state from traffic tickets is a popular urban legend with no basis. Generally, when we target a certain geographic area or step up enforcement focused on a specific section of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, it is because we have identified an existing problem that needs to be addressed,” Tuffey said, such as seat belts, speeding, helmets, DWI, aggressive driving behaviors and equipment violations.
Donato said he did not review the tickets because they were filed directly with the town courts.
Eschler said he has spoken to a number of individuals cited during the state police exercise, including riders who received tickets for placing their sled registration stickers on the side of their snowmobiles instead of on the front housing as prescribed under state Parks and Recreation Law. Eschler said sticker placement on the side has become commonplace, in some instances for aesthetics and in others because the contours on modern housings don’t always provide a flat surface.
While Eschler said he supports enforcement against riders who fail to register their sleds or whose behavior threatens the safety of others, he said some of the tickets written Jan. 23-24 serve only to deter participation in the sport and create bad feelings toward the state police.
“It’s a shame that people who complied with all the laws and paid their registration and insurance fees and went out on the lake to have some fun will now have to pay fines up to $200 because their stickers were not exactly in the right place,” Eschler said. He said riders are already paying increased registration fees, which went up a year ago from $15 to $100 regularly or $45 if the rider joins a club.
Given the state’s current fiscal crisis, Eschler said he questions how the state police can equip troopers with top-of-the-line, $10,000 sleds and then pay them overtime to spend the weekend on the lake.
“Now,” said Eschler, “we’re leaving it up to our local district attorney to enforce these tickets.”
Fulton County District Attorney Louise K. Sira said Wednesday she has heard complaints about some of the tickets but has yet to review the citations.
Sira said she is aware of three tickets for sticker placement. “We’ll look into the circumstances of each ticket,” she said.
Fulton County Sheriff Thomas J. Lorey said his deputies also periodically patrol the lake on snowmobiles. He said deputies monitored two events on the lake this winter and did not write any tickets.
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