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Tubers’ pick-up spot topic of discussion tonight

A group of people on inner tubes float down the Deerfield River near Mill Village Road in Deerfield
08/6/11 MacDonald

A group of people on inner tubes float down the Deerfield River near Mill Village Road in Deerfield ROP 08/6/11 MacDonald

DEERFIELD — Deerfield River tubers may need to find another way to lug their inner tubes between the Bardwells Ferry Bridge and Stillwater Bridge area.

The town’s lawyer has advised local officials that the Deerfield River Portage Co., a local tubing and transportation company, is prohibited from using the Stillwater Bridge area as a “meet-up” point to pick up customers.

Town officials sought legal advice to resolve the question that has nagged the town since last summer: Can the portage company legally operate in Deerfield, picking up its customers at Stillwater Bridge?

Today, the portage company, owned by Kate Clayton-Jones and Danielle Canedy of Conway, is planning to meet with the Board of Selectmen to discuss zoning issues concerning its use of the Stillwater Bridge area as a pick-up spot.

The meeting at 6:35 p.m. in the Town Hall is for informational purposes.

The town lawyer’s opinion, written on March 13, states the operation of a business in the town’s residential/agricultural district absent a special permit is prohibited.

It finds that the portage company’s use of the Stillwater area as its meeting point “clearly constitutes the operation of a commercial, outdoor recreational business in the residential/agricultural district since it is routine and recurrent, is an integral ... part of the business and is made for financial gain.”

Town lawyers Lisa Mead and Michael Kennefick find that the local company is strictly prohibited from using the meet-up point for these purposes and would not qualify for a special permit. A commercial/recreational permit may only be granted to the owner of a 5-acre or more property. The portage company does not own the rally point.

The town attorneys go even further, stating the town may serve the company with a notice of violation and order the company to cease and desist from using the meet-up point for its business.

The tubing company hopes to open on Memorial Day for the 2014 season.

“We made a number of changes to our business to address issues Deerfield had with us in June and July,” Clayton-Jones said.

For six years, the company has operated in the Stillwater Bridge area under the town’s radar and without a town permit.

The portage business came to the town’s attention last summer when calls and complaints from Stillwater residents spiked and police began patrolling the area at a cost of $9,000 to $10,000.

The police struggled to manage the excessive drinking, noise and littering by tubers along the Stillwater stretch of the Deerfield River. Last summer, police responded to two calls for medical assistance on the river and, in July, were forced to conduct a two-hour search for an intoxicated man who was found unconscious on a riverbank.

In June and July of last year, the police issued 93 parking tickets and received 92 calls and complaints for service to the area and Highway Department placed 17 additional “no parking” signs along Stillwater Road.

The tubing company denies that the rowdy tubers are their customers.

When the town learned the portage company was operating in the residential-agricultural district without a special permit, it issued a cease-and-desist order. The portage company caught the attention of the town when it requested a permit to sell food under a tent in the area.

In September, the Zoning Board ruled the tubing company needed a special permit if it wants to continue operating. Then the tubing company changed its headquarters from Stillwater Road to 617 Hoosac Road in Conway and got permission from Conway selectmen to run its business.

The change in its headquarters raised the question of whether the portage company still required a permit from Deerfield, which the town will try to answer this week. While the company no longer has its customers park their vehicles or conduct their transactions in Deerfield, it picks up customers in Deerfield. The town questions whether a taxi-cab permit would be more appropriate.

Since 2008, Deerfield River Portage has provided summer tubers with inner-tube rentals and transportation along the river from Bardwells Ferry Bridge to Stillwater Bridge on the Deerfield River.

The tubing company sells people tubes for $55 at the beginning of the ride. At the end of the trip, the company buys back the tube for $20.

Customers meet the tubing company representatives at 617 Hoosac Road at a scheduled time, where they pick up their tubes. In a large van, the company gives people a ride to the “put in” point by the Bardwells Ferry Bridge area. Customers float down the river and the tubing company meets them at the take-out point and brings them back to their cars parked in Conway.

In the past, the company met tubers by the Stillwater Bridge and the company’s customers park their vehicles along the road. The area is not a public parking lot, but is a clearing historically used for parking, located on state, town and private property, town counsel said.

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.

OK, so I'm out of it - I saw this headline and thought it was about transportation of potatoes. . . . .

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