2012-06-21 / Local News

Hearing set for input on allowing ORVs to use county roadsides

Off-road vehicles (ORVs) may soon be driven a little closer to county roads.

The County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday reexamined a plan to allow ORVs to be driven along the shoulders of county roads, as allowed in a state law. Commissioners voted unanimously to begin the process to establish such an ordinance, which if approved would join Leelanau with the ranks of neighboring counties.

A public hearing was set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 21, for public input. Some areas or entire townships may be exempted from ORV riding on county roads, but no such exemption was provided in the proposed county ordinance. Townships and villages would be able to exempt themselves through votes of their boards or councils.

ORVs would not be allowed on the shoulders of state highways including M-22 and M-72.

“We’re the only county in northern Michigan that didn’t proceed with it,” said John Popa, a member of the Leelanau County Board of Commissioners. In 2008, he pushed for approval of such an ordinance by the County Board; a motion by commissioner Melinda Lautner was not seconded.

The state of Michigan leaves the question up to local counties, which have jumped in droves to allow residents use of county roads by ORVs. At the time, much concern was expressed over safety, although Popa said problems did not develop in other counties.

The ordinance drew several supporters to the June 12 executive committee meeting, where the process was recommended by a 6-0 vote with commissioner David Shiflett absent. Shiflett joined the six commissioners Tuesday in voting for the public hearing.

“You’re going to get some public comment,” Popa predicted.

Benzie County commissioner Mark Roper, who was asked to speak about his experience with the approval process, said three of 12 townships in Benzie originally opted not to allow ORVs on county roads. One of those three townships now allows ORVs. He estimated that 10-15 percent of residents were opposed to the change.

Commissioner David Marshall, whose district of Cleveland, Glen Arbor and Empire townships is dominated by Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, expects township boards in his jurisdiction to look into the “opt out” option.

“The 10-15 percent of the people at your meeting opposed to this,” said Marshall, addressing Rober. “I think they all live in my district.”

The process is expected to take a minimum of four months, but could stretch out with organized opposition. Popa hopes to drive his ORV along county roads by hunting season — or least for ice fishing.

“We’re using these more and more for hunting and fishing. It’s kindof handy to take the thing down the road when you’re mushroom hunting, too,” he said.

The proposed county road ORV ordinance, which follows state guidelines, would:

• Establish a speed limit of 25 mph;

• Require drivers to be at least 12-years-old;

• Restrict operating hours to onehalf hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset;

• Require ORVs to be operated “in a manner that does not interfere” with other vehicles using county roads.

— by Alan Campbell

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