Crow Wing County Board: Public speaks on ATVs
All-terrain vehicle riders will once again be allowed to travel along Crow Wing County Highway 66 after final approval of an updated ordinance by the county board Tuesday.
An amendment introduced by Commissioner Paul Thiede also reduced the speed limit for ATVs using that stretch of road to 20 mph, following an opinion by County Attorney Don Ryan that led to some procedural backtracking.
Residents shared opinions with commissioners during a public hearing at Tuesday's meeting, mostly expressing support for the revised ordinance as written. The ordinance, first passed in 2006, originally barred ATV use on the highway between Crosslake and Manhattan Beach. New language now allows both Class 1 and Class 2 ATVs to ride along the shoulder of Highway 66.
The distinction between Class 1 and Class 2 ATVs, as defined by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is technical in nature, involving the weight of the vehicle and size of the tires. Generally speaking, Class 2 ATVs are those with side-by-side seats, hard tops and seat belts, as opposed to the more traditional four-wheeler-style ATVs, according to Jake Frie, natural resource manager for Crow Wing County Land Services.
In most of the rest of the county, the ordinance mirrors state law—Class 1 ATVs are permitted to ride in the ditch or outside bank along roads, while Class 2 ATVs are permitted to ride on the right shoulder or extreme right side of the road where a shoulder is not available. Highway 66 is now an exception to these rules, with both types required to ride on the shoulder.
The ordinance was evaluated for revision to reflect the entrance of Class 2 ATVs into state definitions, Frie said in December. While revising, land services staff took into consideration a unanimous request from the Crosslake City Council to reconsider allowing Class 1 ATVs on Highway 66. Public comment received on that draft prompted the county's Natural Resources Advisory Committee to recommend allowing both types of vehicles.
Residents share views
Cindy Roggenkamp of Crosslake said allowing both types makes sense, because groups of riders typically utilize both types.
If we only would permit it for one Class 2 ATVs, it could be more confusing," Roggenkamp said, "and disrupt the rides and people wouldn't come into Crosslake to eat at Moonlite Bay or gas up or have ice cream."
Perry May of Outing, a member of the Over the Hills Gang ATV Club, said the new state definitions of Class 1 and Class 2 vehicles, based on wheel size, makes it more difficult to distinguish between the types.
"Just adding Class 1 and Class 2 would make it a lot better for law enforcement officials, anybody looking at trying to define (the classes)," May said.
May said he guides groups of ATV riders, and these groups usually consist of both classes.
Larry Moses of the Merrifield Marathons said having Highway 66 closed to ATV traffic has a negative economic impact on Crosslake businesses and disrupts use of an ATV trail to Longville. Moses said Crow Wing County is home to more than 7,700 registered ATVs and the sport is growing.
"It's a growing sport, it's a family sport, and we really suggest that the type (Class) 1 be added to being allowed on County Road 66," Moses said.
Larry Wannebo of Manhattan Beach was the only county resident who spoke in opposition to the ordinance. Wannebo, who lives on Highway 66, headed a task force formed to study issues related to ATV use when the ordinance initially passed in 2006. Wannebo submitted several comments on the most recent revisions stating his opposition.
Wannebo cited statistics used in a 2014 Star Tribune series on ATV riding to make the case public safety would be at risk if commissioners approved the revised ordinance. The ATVs are not designed to operate on paved surfaces, an information packet put together by Wannebo stated, and more injuries and deaths occur on these surfaces.
Wannebo said Class 1 ATV riders would likely ignore signage directing them to ride on the shoulder, instead riding in the ditch, which is permitted by state law most other places. Erosion of the shoreline of Big Trout Lake was a result of ATV use in those ditches, Wannebo said, and was part of the reasoning behind the ban in the first place.
Since Manhattan Beach does not have its own police department, Wannebo added, enforcement of the ordinance would be difficult there.
"We rely on the county sheriff that's 30 miles away and 45 minutes away," Wannebo said. "The usual song is, well, they'll be up in the woods before we can get there so there's no point in coming and enforcing this ordinance."
Thiede, Roe discuss police position
Crosslake Mayor Steve Roe said he was not sure whether he supported the change or not. On one hand, Roe said businesses in Crosslake "love to have ATV, snowmobile, RV, what have you, access."
"Whatever we decide here today, I think it would be an economic benefit to our businesses in Crosslake," Roe said.
Roe recognized safety concerns as well, pointing out the need to ensure ATV riders are properly insured and equipped with safety gear.
Thiede asked Roe why Crosslake Police Chief Bob Hartman was not in attendance to give his position on the ATV ordinance. In December, Hartman expressed disappointment at the change in the ordinance allowing Class 1s to use the shoulder as well. Hartman said he felt it would confuse riders used to using the ditch and be difficult to enforce.
Hartman's personal position differed significantly from the position of Crosslake police represented by Thiede at the Dec. 15 meeting. Thiede said discussions with the department led him to believe enforcement would become easier with the change.
"When this topic has come up, I've specifically tried to reach out to your chief of police to see where he stands, and I was accused of putting words in his mouth, and I didn't," Thiede said. "I'm curious as to why you don't have your chief of police here."
"That's totally up to him," Roe responded. "I think that I've talked with him, I've communicated with him."
"Third-hand information is never very useful in these discussions, so that's the problem with that," Thiede said. "I wish he would be here to express the opinion."
"I can't speak for him, and I don't know why he's not here," Roe said.
Amendment proposed, tabled, proposed again
The public hearing was closed when no one else rose to speak. Thiede said discussions with DNR conservation officers encouraged him to introduce an amendment to the ordinance limiting the speed limit.
Wannebo stood up and asked the board to solicit Ryan's opinion on whether an amendment was allowed to an ordinance after closure of the public hearing. Ryan advised against amending the ordinance without allowing additional public comment.
"If this is the first time this language is showing up, people would not have been prepared to be able to comment on this," Ryan said.
Thiede made a motion to temporarily table the amendment, which passed 4-1 with Commissioner Paul Koering opposed.
"So anytime the county board wants to change an ordinance, if we're going to have a public hearing, and then if we want to change it ... we can't amend it at all at the county board meeting after the public hearing?" Koering asked Ryan.
"That is my opinion," Ryan responded.
"I don't agree with your opinion," Koering said.
Thiede then made a motion to reopen the public hearing to allow for comment on the proposed amendment, which was approved.
Each of those who spoke approached the microphone again, and all except Wannebo expressed support for the speed limit change.
The amendment was taken off the table and added to the ordinance, with passage of the ordinance following in a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom was opposed.
"I'm voting no for safety issues and for environmental issues," Nystrom said. Earlier in the conversation, Nystrom expressed concern that 12-year-olds are allowed by state law to ride ATVs on their own.
Highway 66 will be the only stretch of road in the county with a 20 mph ATV speed limit, Frie confirmed after Tuesday's meeting. With a few exceptions for county roads in the southeastern part of the county, which are part of the Southern Loop ATV Trail, the posted speed limits apply to ATVs.