MSA News & Snowmobiling Issues
Posted:MSA Annual Meeting set for April 12, Pine Tree Camp
MSA Annual Meeting
Issues in the Sport - 2-14 update
E-15 Test Results Released
Snowmobile Program Report Presented
Executive Director: Why we couldn't support a fee increase
Snowmobile Trail funding survey
The MSA Annual Meeting and Awards Luncheon will be held on Saturday, April 12 at the Pine Tree Camp, Rome. The Executive Committee meets at 10a.m., Directors at 10:30a.m., followed by lunch. MSA awards will be presented following lunch.
The event will also feature a silent auction, and the drawing of the $200 Pot O'Gold from the names of the clubs with an MSA director in attendance.
Join us! Contact the MSA office with your meal head count: 207-622-6983 or email.
Issues in the Sport - 2-14 Update
Shortly before the February Maine Snowmobiler went to press, the Maine Supreme Court issued their decision in Almeder et al. vs. Town of Kennebunkport et al., a case that tested Maine's long-standing laws regarding prescriptive easements. The Maine Snowmobile Association and the Maine Forest Products Council had filed amicus curiae briefs in the case affirming a landowner's right to protect their property from adverse possession.
This was an adverse possession case brought by the town against several beachfront landowners regarding public recreational access on private land. The landowners lost in Superior Court and had appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. The case is somewhat similar to the Baptist Park case that the MSA assisted the landowner with several years ago.
The Supreme Court vacated the lower court decision as to a public prescriptive easement and easement by custom, writing a very clearly worded opinion affirming the permissive use doctrine and how the trial court failed to apply it. It also completely rejected the doctrine of easement by custom, saying it does not exist in Maine law.
MSA member Brian Winchester, an attorney who drafted the brief for the Association, described the decision as, "the plaintiffs hitting it out of the park." Winchester noted that the MSA and landowners got exactly what they asked for, which is a strongly worded statement that permissive use is alive and well in Maine and that is a good thing for recreational access to land.
The MSA has a relatively quiet legislative schedule this session, as the budget and the upcoming elections dominate events in Augusta.
In early January the Department of Conservation, Agriculture and Forestry presented the report on the internal review of the Snowmobile Program to the Legislature's ACF Committee. The study was the result of LD-505, a resolve introduced on behalf of the MSA last session. The commitments made to the legislature in the report include steps to increase transparency in the program and to better utilize the available funds within the program.
View the report.
In late January, the Legislature's IF&W Committee voted to kill LD-89, the MSAÕs early registration bill that was introduced last session. The bill had been carried over for reconsideration after a separate snowmobile registration increase bill was vetoed by Governor LePage.
The MSA also presented testimony on LD-1722, "An Act To Exempt from Sales and Use Tax Sales of Publications To Be Distributed without Charge and Printed Materials Included in Publications," before the Taxation Committee in late January. Legislation passed last spring imposed a sales tax on the printing of publications and newspaper subscriptions. Due to postal regulations as a second-class publication, the MSA is required to dedicate $3.00 from each membership as a "subscription" to the Maine Snowmobiler; greatly increasing the Association's sales tax liability. It is hoped that an amendment to this bill will result in an exemption from sales tax for the MSA. A work session on the bill will be held in early February. - Bob Meyers
E-15 Test Results Released
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.
Snowmobile Program Report Presented
The Report of the Internal Review of the Snowmobile Program by Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Commissioner Walt Whitcomb, was presented to the Legislature's ACF Committee in early January. This study was initiated as a result of legislation introduced by the MSA last winter. We believe that the report and recommendations will help increase transparency and equity within the program and help clubs statewide as we move forward. View the report.
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, ÒI 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
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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