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Green groups attack decision to trial ATVs

Shane Hollis, co-owner of the ATV business in the West End (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Bermuda’s environmental groups have berated a decision greenlighting commercial quad bike tours on the Railway Trail in the West End.

Jonathan Starling, executive director at Greenrock, said the group was “profoundly disappointed” by the announcement.

Mr Starling said: “We believe this decision flies in the face of the public interest, public policy and legislation.”

Kim Smith, executive director at Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said she believed the decision “runs contrary to the views clearly expressed by the community”.

Bill Zuill, executive director at Bermuda National Trust, said the organisation was “deeply dismayed and disheartened”.

The comments came after it was unveiled that the controversial plan had been approved for a one-year trial period.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, made the announcement yesterday to MPs in the House of Assembly.

Colonel Burch said that it was the Government’s view that the Railway Trail “can and should be for the use and enjoyment of the widest cross section of visitors and locals alike”.

He said that the Government believed the plan for the “guided educational tours” would “find favour” with the constituency.

Colonel Burch added: “If at any time they are found to be acting in contravention of the agreement, it can be suspended or cancelled in accordance with the Act.”

He said that the Government believed the business would find “particular favour” with cruise visitors interested in cultural tourism.

He also praised the “vision, steadfastness in detailed research and patience” displayed by the Hollis family who proposed the tours.

Colonel Burch said: “Both the Minister of Transport [Walter Roban] and I were impressed with their depth of knowledge, desire to offer something different in the Bermuda experience and their commitment and love of this country.”

A message left with ATV tour owner Rudolph “Buddy” Hollis for comment on yesterday’s announcement was not returned by press time.

Colonel Burch said a maximum number of ten quad bikes would be allowed to operate.

He added the plan was to carry out tours of between six and eight customers, plus two tour guides.

Colonel Burch said the tours would not traverse any “virgin land” and would be kept on the Railway Trail and service roads.

He added the tours will operate from 10am to 4pm from Monday to Friday, and that legislative amendments were not required for the tours.

The plan came under fire from residents, farmers and environmental groups last year.

Colonel Burt said last month that island residents living east of White Hill “don’t get a say” on the proposed tour plan.

But he told MPs yesterday that despite his “honest and frank publicly expressed views” he had considered “each and every submission” sent in on the proposal before arriving at his decision.

He said 628 “valid responses” were received. Only two backed the plan.

Ms Smith said: “I think it verges on the impossible to believe that the minister considered each and every submission sent in on the proposal before making his decision.”

Mr Zuill said BNT was “particularly concerned” that Colonel Burch went against the wishes of the “99.7 per cent of those who responded to the public consultation”.

He added: “Many will perceive this as making a mockery of the public consultation process and this will reduce confidence in public consultation in general”.

Mr Starling said Greenrock was “deeply concerned about the precedent setting nature” of the decision. He said the decision to give the plan the go ahead made a “complete farce of the public consultation process”.

Mr Starling added: “To be frank, this will undermine the public’s trust in this Government’s commitment to public consultation and I’m surprised that the Premier [David Burt] would support this decision.”

To read Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”