County OK’s ORV use along roads
County hunters, fishers and farmers said they will benefit from a County Board of Commissioners decision Tuesday night allowing off-road vehicles (ORVs) to be driven on the shoulders of county roads.
They said so while dominating a public hearing on the topic that started at 5:30 p.m. Later that evening at its monthly meeting, commissioners revised their agenda to include the ordinance — and passed the change on a 5-1 vote. Commissioner James Schaub was not in attendance.
Approval came despite opposition from the boards of trustees of Cleveland, Empire and Glen Arbor townships — which comprise the district represented by county commissioner David Marshall — and a last-minute letter sent by the National Park Service warning that ORV use on county roads within the park may result in damage to natural resources. Marshall voted against the ordinance, saying that many opponents were not aware that a decision would be made that night and two last-minute changes in the original text had not been properly reviewed.
“I just think every time we rush stuff through, we wind up a few months later wishing we hadn’t done that,” he said.
Other commissioners, however, said the public hearing was scheduled in June, providing plenty of time for those opposed to express their thoughts. A show of hands at the hearing indicated that all but a couple people of the 36 in attendance supported the change.
“There seems like wide support for this,” said commissioner Richard Schmuckal. “If someone was opposed to the ordinance, they had the opportunity to be present here this evening.”
Leelanau was the last county in northern Michigan to allow ORVs on county roads. County road commissioner John Popa pushed for the change after the County Board two years ago took up but did not approve a similar ordinance.
Popa said neighboring counties can be used as test cases to show that allowing ORVs on road shoulders does not compromise safety or result in an increase in damage to adjoining properties.
In fact, less problems may occur, suggested Daniel Grant of Bingham Township. “This may actually help that and cut down on trespassing,” he suggested, as farmers will be allowed to travel with ORVs on county roads from orchard to orchard rather than cutting across private property.
Benzie commissioner Dave Roper said concerns over such an ordinance approved in his county evaporated over time as a rise in ORV abuses failed to materialize. He said four townships initially passed ordinances banning ORV use on county roads; three have since rescinded the bans.
“We had issues before the ordinance; we’ve no more or no less after we had the ordinance,” Roper said.
Most ORV use on Benzie roads has been by local residents, not visitors, he added. The change made legal the use of golf carts, which are growing in popularity.
Townships and villages in Leelanau County will also have an option of “opting out” of the county-wide ordinance, or even designating roads or areas within their jurisdictions where ORVs cannot be driven on county roads. To do so, they will need to approve their own ordinances following public hearings.
The county ordinance will take effect seven days after notice of its adoption is published in the Leelanau Enterprise.
The ordinance, which closely follows state guidelines, will:
• Establish a speed limit of 25 mph;
• Require ORVs to be operated “in a manner that does not interfere” with other vehicles using county roads;
• Require that ORVs be equipped with headlights and taillights, and that they be on at all hours;
• Require ORV drivers to be at least 12-years-old;
• Continue to ban their use on state highways such as M-22, M-72 and M-204.
Brian Clarke of Bingham Township was one of many ordinance supporters attending the hearing. He did not expect the change to result in a rush by non-county residents to drive ORVs on county roads. And he expected residents to follow the law when on their ORVs.
“Those people don’t want to lose that privilege to use their snowmobiles and ATVs,” he said.
One resident, addressing a concern that the ordinance would result in damage to county roads, said: “You ever get behind a tractor? Do you think they’re going to be doing less (damage) than an ORV?”
Two residents spoke in opposition. Elaine Morse of Kasson Township said adding ORVs to the many bicyclists using county roads will create a dangerous mix. She added, “I think we are going to have a lot of problems with trespass ... I believe the county will be incurring some expense with repairing the roads. And we are not going to have people following the law nicely.”
Said William Champion: “An open ORV season would certainly minimize the qualities of the quiet beauty that we enjoy in this county.” He expected the ordinance to result in business losses, a drop in property values, and fewer visitors to Leelanau.