Judy Cartwright writes the Community Watchdog column
Almost 8,500 all-terrain vehicles are registered in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, and some days it can seem like they've all discovered the property behind Peter Labozetta's Centereach home.
"We've owned our home since 2000 and every day it's getting worse and worse," Labozetta said when we first spoke. "The racket and the smell . . . In summer, we have to close the windows."
Labozetta's backyard borders a LIPA transmission line right of way. He has told riders that the land is off limits but some insist they're entitled because they've been riding there since long before neighboring houses arrived.
Labozetta's was built 20 years ago.
The riders' understanding is at odds with No Trespassing signs and locks on gates at each end. As for state law: "To operate an ATV on private land, you must have permission of the land owner or lessee."
A handful of private sites on Long Island are available for off-road riding, but they come at a price: Membership can exceed $1,000 a year.
Labozetta and his wife, Ann, have files of correspondence and phone calls with representatives of LIPA, Suffolk County police and other agencies, including a 2004 letter from then-LIPA chairman Richard Kessel saying he would "contact our security people to see what they can do to rid you of this nuisance."
The nuisance persists, and Labozetta finds himself spun from one office to the next in search of a solution.
More "No Trespassing" signs? "The riders remove them almost immediately," LIPA spokeswoman Elizabeth Flagler told us. Locks on the gates? "Sometimes, the guardrails and locks that LIPA installs are compromised as a means to gain entry," she said.
The section of right of way, which stretches more than a mile from Portion Road to Middle Country Road, can't be closed off completely, Flagler said, because LIPA and National Grid as well as fire departments need access.
LIPA and Suffolk County police say they will devote renewed effort to the site.
"LIPA met with the Suffolk County Police Department to discuss possible solutions," Flagler wrote in an email. "We have signed affidavits for the SCPD, which establish that the ATV or motorbike users do not have LIPA's permission to use the ROW [right of way], and which may be used by the police in connection with the arrest of a violator and the impounding of a vehicle."
When LIPA gets a call about the site, Flagler said, the Security Command Center will send a uniformed guard. That person, in turn, can notify police who "have the authority to issue a summons for a violation and confiscate the vehicle."
Sixth Precinct Insp. Thomas Palmieri confirmed that people riding on the site are "subject to tickets and having their vehicles impounded."
Such activity has increased recently, he said, adding: "I know it's a lot of distress for the people who live there to have to listen to vehicles racing up and down. We'll put some pressure on to try to stop it."
Flagler said that LIPA and Suffolk police "are working together to find a resolution. We all would very much like to solve this problem."
No one more so than the Labozettas.