|Written by The Times Herald|
|Monday, January 11, 2010|
When Brad Foltz takes his snowmobile to northern Michigan, he can ride to gas stations, restaurants and different trails thanks to an ordinance that makes it legal to ride on the side of roads.
And he hopes officials will consider the same ordinance in St. Clair and Sanilac counties.
"It would make it easier to get out and enjoy myself out there," the 25-year-old Yale resident said.
County and township officials in the Blue Water Area have the option to legalize off-road vehicles on the public right of way because of a bill sponsored by Rep. John Espinoza, D-Croswell.
The law adding St. Clair and Sanilac counties to the list of those that can consider the ordinance went into effect in December.
Espinoza sponsored the bill after hearing from residents who want access to the roadways. He said it also is another way to promote tourism in the area.
He said either county or township boards can consider the ordinance that would permit ORVs to travel on the side or shoulders of public roads. Espinoza hopes the counties will consider approving the ordinance, letting individual townships opt out if desired.
Strict guidelines go along with it though, he said, including a 25 mph speed limit. Vehicles also must drive in single file. Espinoza said there already is legislation in place in regard to trespassing on private property, which has been a concern. Officials also can exclude roadways, he said.
"There's pretty stringent rules," he said. "A lot of safeguards so people don't abuse private property, and they have to be licensed."
St. Clair County Commissioner Steve Simasko said the board has not yet considered the ordinance, but he will suggest they explore it.
"I thought that was a good idea to allow counties to look at," he said.
Simasko said he'd want to find out more information including crash statistics in counties of similar size that allow ORVs on the roadways.
The Kenockee Township resident said it could be beneficial for more rural areas and could boost tourism.
"There's times I have to go from one farm to the next, instead of going through a field... (it would be) pretty handy to go down the side of the road," Simasko said.
St. Clair County Commissioner Jeff Bohm said it should be a decision left up to each township.
"There's some rural townships here in St. Clair County that may want the ability to have that as an option," he said.
Bohm said he doesn't know if it would be as big a tourism draw as it is for northern counties but said some people might choose to drive an hour rather than three to take out their sleds.
The issue will be discussed at the Sanilac County Board of Commissioners' finance meeting Jan. 19, County Administrator John Males said.
"I don't know it's going to drive as much economic development as some people think," Sanilac County Commissioner Jamie Daws said. But she added she doesn't foresee many problems with allowing the vehicles along the roadside.
"I think the people who are going to abuse it are the people who are doing it now," she said.
Sanilac County Commissioner James Bowerman said he would support a motion to allow it in his county.
He agrees with Espinoza's assertion that the rules are tight enough on the law.
"I think it could be a benefit," he said. "The snowmobile trail has brought quite a bit of money in. (Economic impact) is one of those unknown things. I'm supportive of it, and if issues come up, we can address those things."
Under the law, county
Kirk Weston, managing director of the St. Clair County Road Commission, said the commission would meet with individual townships to discuss the safety of certain roads.
"Take Marine City Highway," he said. "It's the second busiest road in the county. It's probably not the place to have an ORV. ... If you're mixing that kind of traffic on a road like Marine City (Highway), that's a concern for us."
Within St. Clair County, the highway runs the length of the southern borders of Casco and China townships and the northern borders of Ira and Cottrellville townships.
St. Clair County Sheriff
"If you're driving ORVs now in places that cars are around, the potential for more accidents is going to happen," he said.
But Donnellon said he's not overly concerned, and if it's approved, his department will work to educate deputies and citizens.
"We will work accordingly with the townships on whatever avenues they decide to go with," he said.
Foltz and Andy Van Ness, a fellow snowmobiling enthusiast, said opening the roadways would make it more enjoyable.
"It really limits where you can go if you can't use the road. ... I think it would bring more people into the sport," said Van Ness, 31, of Port Huron.
He said most wouldn't abuse the privilege.
"I think for the most part they're pretty responsible, (but) you're always going to have some people who don't want to listen to the law or do what they're supposed to."
"Nevada Sheriffs' and Chiefs' Association worked closely with the Nevada OHV community to develop our current law and we believe that when fully implemented it will be very helpful in dealing with the problems of theft of OHVs and it will go a long way in identifying those who participate in destructive acts on or off public lands."
- Frank Adams of the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association