MSA News & Snowmobiling Issues
Posted:E-15 Test Results Released
E-15 Test Results Released
Issues in the Sport - 9-13 update
Executive Director: Why we couldn't support a fee increase
MSA Presents Annual Awards
Snowmobile Trail funding survey
The US Dept of Energy has released the results of a study of the effect of E-15 fuel on snowmobile engines. Bottom line: the study supports the EPA decision that the fuel is NOT APPROVED FOR SNOWMOBILE USE. View press release from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Assn.
Issues in the Sport
The first session of the 126th Legislature ended in the early hours of July 10 and it was a busy one for the MSA. There were things happening all session and now that the dust has settled, here's our comprehensive report on what the MSA worked on, how things ended up and how it may affect us.
LD-89, An Act To Establish a Deadline for Snowmobile Registration (MSA Bill) Sponsored by Sen. Doug Thomas. Our bill establishing a deadline for registrations has been carried over to the second session for consideration. MSA directors had supported this bill as a way to encourage riders to register early as a way to provide predictability to snowmobile trail funding. Opponents painted the proposal as a de facto fee increase. This was the only fee increase supported by the MSA this session.
LD-105 An Act To Allow Motor Fuel Containing Five Percent Ethanol To Be Sold in the State Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Timberlake LD-105 was one of several ethanol bills taken up by the Legislature this session. This bill would have limited the amount of ethanol in gas to 5%. It passed in the House and then rejected by the Senate. Opponents argued that Maine's fuel market was too small to allow distributors to be able to offer a 5% product.
LD-115 An Act To Join in a Prohibition on Motor Fuel Containing Corn-based Ethanol Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Timberlake. This bill attempted a different approach on the ethanol issue. With opponents arguing that any change had to be market-driven, LD-115 called for an elimination of ethanol as a fuel additive provided that ten other states or states with a combined population of over 30 million passed the same prohibition. This bill passed and was signed by Governor LePage. To date, there are not nearly enough states addressing this legislatively for it to happen in the foreseeable future. The MSA has also continued to work with Maine's congressional delegation on addressing the use of ethanol on the federal level.
LD-154 An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Limited Liability for Recreational or Harvesting Activities Sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keschl. This bill was submitted to deal with issues regarding private crossings of railroad lines. The MSA opposed as it was linked to Title 14, Section 159-A, the landowner liability law and possibly open the door to exclusive use and pay-for-access. An amended version of the bill was passed and signed by Governor LePage. It establishes a task force made up of representative of the railroads, landowners and trial lawyers to study issues regarding private railroad crossings. The task force is required to present a report to the Legislature's Judiciary Committee by February 1, 2014.
LD-172 An Act To Make Permanent the Reciprocal Agreement between Maine and Other States Regarding a Snowmobile Weekend Sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello. This bill renewed the so-called free snowmobile weekend that was passed by the 125th Legislature and was set to expire this year under a sunset provision. The MSA has consistently opposed any bills offering free riding as it conflicts with the basic elements of a user-pay system. This bill passed and was signed by the governor.
LD-334 An Act To Allow Nonprofit Organizations To Operate Snowmobiles as Trail-grooming Equipment (MSA Bill) Sponsored by Rep. Rick Long . LD-334 corrected changes in the original groomer registration bill that was presented by the MSA. The original intent of that bill was to allow all club-owned grooming equipment to be registered as groomers. At that time at the insistence of the Dept. of Conservation, the MSA bill was amended to prevent snowmobiles from being included. This bill amended the definition of a groomer to allow all club-owned equipment to be registered as a groomer for a one-time fee of $33. It was passed and became law without the Governor's signature.
LD-400 An Act To Amend the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law Sponsored by Rep. Brian Jones. The MSA has traditionally opposed any efforts to change the Tree Growth Tax Law out of respect for landowners, and view it as one of the most effective land conservation laws in the state. This bill would have required that any land in Tree Growth be harvested by Maine residents and processed in Maine mills. It was killed by the Taxation Committee.
LD-404 An Act To Exempt Snowmobile Clubs from Certain Department of Transportation Sign Requirements Sponsored by Rep. Joe Brooks. The MSA supported this bill which would have exempted snowmobile clubs from the fees required for Dept. of Transportation directional signs. It was killed in the Transportation Committee.
LD-453 An Act To Prohibit the Sale of Gasoline That Contains Ethanol as an Additive at a Level Greater than 10 Percent by Volume Sponsored by Rep. Rick Long. LD-453, another of the ethanol bills, prohibits the sale of gas containing more than 10% corn-based ethanol in Maine. It was passed and signed by the Governor.
LD-505 Resolve, Directing the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry To Conduct an Internal Review of the Snowmobile Trail Fund (MSA Bill) Sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello. LD-505 was an MSA bill, presented after a unanimous vote of the MSA directors. It directs the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to conduct an internal review of the Snowmobile Trail Program, focusing on four concerns that have been unresolved over the years.
The resolve requires a review of the allocation of funds in the program, particularly the unspent amount carried over every year. A justification of the carry-over amount is required. It also requires quarterly reporting on the fund's activity. The resolve will result in a written policy on the distribution of funds to ensure that the grant distributions are equitable; as well as educational outreach to make sure all projects have equal access to available funds. The last component of the resolve directs the Department to develop a plan to eliminate the very expensive state-maintained trails.
The MSA submitted an amendment further defining the scope of the study after conferring with the Department and the final version of the resolve was passed and became law without the Governor's signature. A report back to the ACF Committee is due December 1 of this year and the Committee will have the authority to recommend legislation modifying the program if necessary. To date, work on the study has been slow to start, although work on it should be underway in September. Watch future issues of the Maine Snowmobiler for updates on the study.
LD-572 An Act Regarding Games of Chance Operated by Snowmobile Clubs (MSA Bill) Sponsored by Rep. Mike Shaw. This MSA bill was a third attempt to modify the state gaming laws regarding poker runs. As any club that has run one knows, poker runs regulations require a significant amount of paperwork for the state, and then limits the amount charged for a hand to $1, making them hardly worth the effort. LD-572 increases the per-hand limit on poker runs from $1 to $50. It was passed and signed by the Governor.
LD-720 An Act To Eliminate Sales Tax Exemptions for Snowmobiles and All-terrain Vehicles Purchased by Nonresidents for Use in the State Sponsored by Rep. Don Marean. This bill was the MSA's biggest disappointment of the session. It eliminated the sales tax exemption on snowmobiles, ATVs and watercraft sold by Maine dealers to non-residents. The snowmobile exemption was created in 1995 as part of the legislation that created non-resident registration fees. Every year a significant number of sleds are sold to non-residents. The MSA worked closely with the Maine Motorsport Dealers Association, but in the end an amended version of this bill passed and was signed by the Governor.
LD-837 An Act To Clarify the Laws Establishing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Sponsored by Rep. Ken Fredette. LD-837 completed the work started during the 125th Legislature when legislation was passed to merge the Departments of Conservation and Agriculture. This was one of those bills that was in play during the entire session, and the MSA played a role in the debate as part of the Natural Resource Network. The final version of this bill is based on an amendment developed by the Network, and in spite of strong opposition from major environmental groups it became law.
LD-1177 An Act To Implement the Recommendations from the Discontinued and Abandoned Roads Stakeholder Group Sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello. LD-1177 came from conclusions reached by the abandoned roads stakeholder group the MSA was a member of last summer and fall. This bill has been carried over to the next session as work continues on legislation aimed and bringing some clarity to the complicated issue.
LD-1190 An Act To Require the Secretary of State To Issue Certificates of Title for All-terrain Vehicles, Snowmobiles and Watercraft Sponsored by Rep. Raymond Wallace. The MSA opposed this bill, arguing that titling relatively inexpensive motor vehicles added an unacceptable cost to consumers. It was killed in committee, but is likely to be seen in some form in future sessions.
LD-1248 An Act To Establish Trail Standards in Deer Wintering Areas Sponsored by Rep. Larry Dunphy. LD-1248 would have required the Land Use Planning Commission and IF&W to establish standards for trails in deer yards. It would have placed a burden on clubs and intruded on landowners. Similar regulations were attempted during the last revision of the LURC Comprehensive Land Use Plan. It was killed in committee.
In addition to the bills worked by the MSA during the session, we also monitored the two registration increase bills that were heard by the Legislature. Although the LePage Administration opposed fee increases as a matter of policy, both were brought forward and promoted as so-called Snowmobile Advisory Council bills.
LD-268 An Act To Improve Snowmobiling in the State Sponsored by Sen. John Patrick This bill proposed raising the resident registration fee to $60, the non-resident season registration fee to $100 and the 3-day nonresident registration fee to $50 and dedicated $27 from each registration to the Snowmobile Trail Fund. The bill also established a non-resident 7- day registration for $75. It was killed in Committee
LD-1263 An Act To Increase Funding for the Snowmobile Trail Fund and Adjust the Sales Tax Relating to Snowmobiles and Trail-grooming Equipment Sponsored by Rep. Steve Stanley. The final version of the second of the so-called advisory council bills increased the resident registration fee to $45, the 3-day non-resident fee to $50, the non-resident registration to $110 and designated most of the increases to the Snowmobile Trail Fund. The IF&W Committee voted 8-5 to approve the bill which was passed by the full Legislature, but vetoed by Governor LePage.
Given the optimistic outlook for the upcoming winter by the Farmer's Almanac, it is hoped that the second session of the 126 Legislature decides to take a break from snowmobiling issues. It is very likely that once again the MSA will be busy in the hall of the State House, and reports on all activity will continue in the Maine Snowmobiler.
Why We Couldn't Support a Fee Increase
The 126th Legislature will be remembered as one of the busiest the MSA has had in recent memory. With 18 bills being actively worked and several more that we kept an eye on, the session was also notable for having bills just never end - things we started working on in January were still in play in June. Endless.
The session will probably also be remembered for what the MSA didn't do during the session - we decided to sit out the debate on the registration increases.
That decision turned out to be as contentious as anything we've dealt with before and at times was bitter, ugly and sometimes just plain foolish.
In retrospect, we made the right decision. Here's why:
We started working on legislative issues early in the summer of 2012, after what was arguably the worst season in recent memory. Registrations were down 30%, clubs grants were cut 10%, as were most municipal grants. Clubs were disappointed and frustrated. No money, skyrocketing fuel costs and a lack of support from riders.
The problem was fairly simple and almost as easily unsolvable - a large number of riders register when they ride and not a minute before. Charge whatever you want for a registration, but if it doesn't snow, many riders just won't register. Our solution to that problem was a tiered registration that later became LD-89. Similar to states like Vermont and provinces like Quebec and New Brunswick, the idea was to provide an incentive for people to register early.
We believed that the $20 price break might just be enough to get folks to bite the bullet and bet on a snowy season ahead.
Then the question was, should we take it to the next step, which was tying the early registration to an across the board increase? There were plenty of arguments in favor of it. Fuel costs and increases in just about every cost associated with grooming trails. But on the other hand, many argued, we've been down that path. The MSA had supported several fee increases in recent memory, and it didn't appear that the lot of the average club was improving. Club grants have been stuck for years at $3,750. Some municipal projects had seen increases, but those were uneven.
This led us to a closer look at the program itself and a series of discussions on whether there were changes that could be made there. That became the more compelling question as our talks continued into the fall. Other than the volume of income, the program was little-changed from the early 1980s. Trail grants had expanded, but other factors had entered the picture too. Rail trail maintenance expenses which didn't exist years ago had grown considerably. State-maintained trail maintenance costs had increased and most attempts to curb those costs had been met with unsuccessful outcomes. A large carryover balance every year became an issue when struggling clubs saw over $400,000 plus per year left in the account even after MSA-led initiatives like gas tax increases provided stable year-round funding.
Senator Tom Saviello of Wilton, a loyal friend of snowmobiling, had drawn his line in the sand during the last increase debate, being the lone opposition vote to a proposed increase saying, “I won't vote for another registration increase until I see the last increase on the ground. “Saviello's comment and his discussions with the MSA convinced us that before any increase should happen, we should make sure that the existing funds were being maximized. This led to LD-505, the Resolve directing the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to conduct an internal review of the Snowmobile Program. LD-505 passed and as of press time, the Department was just beginning work on the review and study which is due in early December. We're confident that report will provide the foundation for a plan for the future of our sport.
The final factor in our decision to not take a position on fee increases was assurances from the LePage Administration that any fee increase, like any tax increase, would be vetoed if passed. That promise of course came to pass when the registration bill that did pass was vetoed by the Governor.
So, that's where we are. The review should help show us how to proceed, and the coming season will also provide us with guidance on what snowmobilers want.
This brings us back to two years ago. As I mentioned earlier, the winter of 2011-12 saw a 30% decrease in registrations. Clearly snow was the major factor, but it is likely that the economy could have played a role too; reminding us that everything involving consumers' pocketbooks needs to be approached carefully these days.
Maine isn't alone in snowmobile issues, and looking to our friends in the northeast can be very educational. That same season Vermont's trail pass sales dropped 30% too, and New Hampshire lost 60% of their registrations. Both of these states have considerably more expensive registrations than Maine.
Then this past winter came, and all appeared to be almost well again. We picked up almost all of the 30% we had lost the year before. The 10% cuts were restored and all is well again - maybe. Vermont however is reporting that their registrations remained flat. A New Hampshire Association leader told me that they saw an increase of 10% this past year. In other words we're near states that have seen what might possibly be losses of 30-50% on an ongoing basis.
There's no question Maine is a cheap date when it comes to snowmobiling, but there is also such a thing as pricing yourself out of what is a relatively shaky market. The irony wasn't lost on committee members when proponents of the fee increase testified that riders were willing to pay anything to ride in Maine and then included in their bill a 7-day registration because vacationers weren't willing to buy a season registration for a week-long stay.
So here we are. How can we act smarter and leaner if such a thing is possible? Do we need an increase? Probably, but if we do how much is enough? And how far can we go before we start going backwards? It's an interesting and important discussion and everyone should be involved in it. - Bob Meyers
Maine Snowmobile Association Presents Annual Awards
The Maine Snowmobile Association recognized a number of snowmobile club volunteers and friends of Maine snowmobiling during the association Annual Meeting held April 13, 2013 at the Penobscot County Conservation Association clubhouse in Brewer. Honorees for the 2012-2013 winter snowmobile season are:
The President's Award: Colonel Joel Wilkinson, Chief of the Maine Warden Service
MSA President Jim White selected Wilkinson as the recipient of this recognition. The colonel became Chief of the Service in 2007, a time of financial challenges and low morale at the Department. During the past six years, his progressive and inspirational leadership have helped to transform the Warden Service, one of the nation's most highly regarded law enforcement agencies. The Warden Service was established in 1880. Over the past 130 years, their mission has expanded greatly to include responsibility for issues far beyond their original mandate. Col. Wilkinson has worked to restructure the Service and led it through a process that dictates how Wardens will serve the people of Maine. He has worked closely with the MSA on enforcement plans and community outreach, and these efforts show on the trails. The accident rate is going down, and there seems to be an increased awareness of snowmobile safety among Maine snowmobilers.
Snowmobile Club of the Year: Bog Hooters Snowmobile Club of Mechanic Falls-President Peter Ford
The members of the Bog Hooters Snowmobile Club of Mechanic Falls were honored for getting things done. Despite being a relatively small club of 25 family memberships and 10 business members, this group of volunteers is an active, lively and contributing part of their community. The club maintains 25 miles of snowmobile trail, has added a mile of new trail and completed a new bridge this season and are active participants in the development of the area's Corridor 26 trail project. They have a clubhouse, and host a popular chili-chowder cook-off, hunters' breakfast and classic car cruise-in breakfast, as well as a Landowner Dinner honoring those who allow snowmobile trails on their property. This year the club purchased refrigerator magnets for all their landowners with the club officers' contact information in case any questions or problems arose during the snowmobile season. Club volunteers are also organizing a fund raising dinner-dance to benefit a club member whose home was lost to fire this winter.
Snowmobiler of the Year: Edward "Sonny" Fogg of Penobscot
A member of the Family Snowmobile Club of Bucksport, Fogg has been active in organized snowmobiling for well over 40 years. One of the founding members of the Family Snowmobile Club, originally known as the Jed Prouty Snowmobile Club, he has helped to build and maintain Maine's snowmobile trails for decades. His current contributions include cutting brush, building bridges and fundraising. He loves to ride, averaging 3000 miles each winter on his Ski-doo Touring sled. He has made numerous trips across Maine, New Brunswick and the Gaspe region of Quebec and continues to join his club on multiple-day winter trips covering hundreds of miles. Club members describe him as humble and helpful, and a goodwill ambassador for the club, the MSA and the sport of snowmobiling through his interactions with Maine riders and visiting snowmobilers from other states.
Groomer of the Year: Maber Cronkite of Etna
Groomer operator Maber Cronkite maintains trails for the Sebasticook Valley Snowmobile Club. A member of the club since 1980, Cronkite accepts responsibility for landowner contacts in his area, and grooms 30 plus miles of the club's 92 miles of trail in the towns of Stetson, Etna and Newport. The trails in Etna are "his deal" according to fellow club members. His grooming experience started with long track snowmobiles, moving up to double tracks and Bombi groomers. After a short lived experiment with a Track Truck, he moved into Tucker groomers and currently operates a Tucker 1000. Over the last few seasons he has led his crew in relocating several miles of ITS 83. Over the years, Maber Cronkite has devoted thousands of hours to grooming, and thousands more to trail work, grant paperwork and landowner relations, to keep snowmobiling safe and enjoyable in his area of the state.
Supporting Business of the Year: Awards, Signage and Trophies of Brewer-Owner Bob Dion
A long standing Business Member of the Eastern Maine Snowmobilers club of Holden, Bob Dion has supported many snowmobile club suppers and fundraisers over the years and is an active member of the greater Bangor community. Dion is involved with the Kiwanis and the Masonic Fraternity, and has volunteered at the American Folk Festival and at the Pine Tree Camp for those with physical and/or developmental disabilities. He has owned his business for over 20 years, supplying trophies and other recognitions to his customers, including many snowmobile club members who find Bob and his staff to be friendly, accommodating, professional and fair.
Report of the Snowmobile Trail Funding Survey:
This is the report on the results of the Snowmobile Trail Grooming Funding Survey that was undertaken in the winter and spring of 2011 by Dr. Stephen Reiling of the University of Maine Orono in conjunction with the MSA Trails Committee. The study was funded as part of the MSA Trails Committee contract with the Department of Conservation this past season. There was a great response from clubs and municipal projects across the state, and the results are interesting reading - see what folks think here:Click here to view the report.
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