SOUTHINGTON — Water Department officials are considering new all-terrain vehicles for police to use during trespassing patrols and rescues.
Trespassers on motorbikes, quads and other vehicles damage trails and dams on Water Department land. Police began conducting patrols on an ATV given by the department last summer and have chased riders off or ticketed them 15 times.
That ATV, a 2006 Polaris, needs dealer service, according to Lt. Keith Egan. Another ATV, a 2019 Can Am, was given to the department as part of a loan program that will end next week.
While bought by the Water Department, the Polaris is kept at the police station and used for mountain rescues and other operations. On Thursday, the water board considered the purchase of two new ATVs and talked about keeping them accessible for use by department employees. They would cost about $7,000 apiece.
Water Department Superintendent William Casarella said the use of motorbikes and ATVs at high speeds can ruin roads through watershed land and erode the tops of dams. Illegal riders also often travel in groups, doing even more damage.
“The ATVs just tear up these roads terribly,” Casarella said. “We’ve seen five to 10 at once.”
Patrols by Water Department employees aren’t all that effective, he said, since they can’t issue tickets for trespassing.
“When you go up there and tell people to leave, it really does nothing,” Casarella said.
Police on ATVs patrol in pairs. Recently, with one ATV out of service, the department has called in an officer from Berlin or Wolcott with an ATV to assist a Southington officer.
Egan listed 15 instances where police ticketed or chased off illegal riders in the past year. In some instances, riders spotted police and fled. In April, a group of dirt bike riders saw police and fled, leaving behind one rider who was having engine trouble. That rider was cited for trespassing and told police he thought they only patrolled on the weekends.
Most recently, police ticketed a father who was riding dirt bikes near reservoir 2 with his son.
In addition to instances where police caught or chased off illegal riders, Lt. Stephen Elliott said the patrols also let people know that they can’t ride on Water Department property.
“There’s also the deterrent factor that results from this,” he said.
The police also use the ATVs for finding lost hikers and during rescues in rough terrain, such as Ragged Mountain.
While useful, Elliott said police don’t have the funds for any vehicles right now. They’ve had to buy equipment for outfitting new cruisers and have hired new officers.
“It’s not something we can get into our budget right now,” Elliott said.
Bob Berkmoes, water board vice president, said he’s in favor of buying ATVs and is confident that the police and water departments can work out an arrangement for access.
The police patrols were very helpful, Berkmoes said, but Water Department employees could also use them to reach the 1,500 acres of watershed land.
“There are times when we could use those. I think we would need access to use the machines,” he said.
Casarella said he’d contact police about how that could be accomplished.