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Crow Wing County: Breezy Point advocates for golf carts on county roads. Public comment sought on proposed ordinance

Breezy Point is on the fast track to allow golf carts on county roads within the city. About a dozen city officials and residents made their case before the Crow Wing County Natural Resources Advisory Committee Wednesday, April 3. Among those pre...

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Echo Journal file photo

Breezy Point is on the fast track to allow golf carts on county roads within the city.

About a dozen city officials and residents made their case before the Crow Wing County Natural Resources Advisory Committee Wednesday, April 3. Among those present were Mayor Tom Lillehei, City Administrator Patrick Wussow, council member Michael Moroni and Police Chief Kevin Merschman, all of whom advocated for an ordinance allowing golf carts to drive on the shoulder of County Highways 4, 11 and 39 in Breezy Point.

"The golf carts are not used for golfing, so get that out of your head right now," Lillehei said. "Maybe three or four people in the entire city of Breezy Point will take their golf cart to the golf course. Everybody else uses it as an alternative means of transportation."

Already allowing golf carts on city streets, Breezy Point has been working on adding county roads to that list for a long time, but with little progress until now.

When the county board passed Ordinance 601 to allow all-terrain vehicles on county roads last April, Lillehei and the city of Breezy Point opposed the measure, primarily based on its exclusion of golf carts.

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"Being that Ordinance 601 was passed as written without our request for golf carts, all objections we previously expressed are moot, and we fully accept Ordinance 601," Lillehei wrote to Crow Wing County Environmental Services Supervisor Ryan Simonson in a memo presented before the natural resources committee Wednesday.

"However," the memo read, "we still desire to have the ability to drive a low speed golf cart on the county road shoulder like the ATVs and are making this appeal to you."

Lillehei cited the high number of golf carts in the city-more than 400-and lack of access to major parts of the city with the exclusion of county roads as two primary reasons for the city's appeal.

"With the advent and the development of the North Star Center, we're going to be seeing a lot more traffic up toward the west end of the city, and the only way you can get there is by driving on County Road 11," Lillehei told the Brainerd Dispatch after the meeting, noting Cuyuna Regional Medical Center going in there is just the beginning of what the developer hopes to be a much bigger complex.

"Whitebirch Development wants to have a cart path that comes through their North Star Center down to the center of the city, so that's why it's very important," he said.

Pelican Square Convenience Store and Ace Hardware are also among major businesses Lillehei mentioned are not accessible by golf cart right now because of their location on county roads.

Right now, because golf carts are not allowed on the shoulders of county roads, ruts have been created in may places off the side of County Highways 4 and 11 because of the high golf cart traffic.

Wussow provided photos of some of the ruts, many of which encroach on private property and are very rough.

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"It's dangerous," Lillehei said. "I drive my golf cart on there, and there are areas where that golf cart almost tips over because of the unevenness of the ruts. Get people off of that, and they'll be a lot safer on the county roads."

Breezy Point also requires golf carts to be licensed and insured, display "slow moving vehicle" signage, and be equipped with headlights and taillights if operating between sunset and sunrise. Drivers must be 15 years or older, and golf carts are not permitted to be driven during inclement weather or during times of limited visibility.

Wussow showed photos of the 10-foot wide paved shoulders off most county roads in Breezy Point. Shoulders, he said, that provide ample room for golf carts, especially because many side-by-side ATVs are wider than golf carts. Photos of the two vehicles next to each other proved that point.

"You allow one, but you don't allow the other on county roads," Wussow said.

Committee member Keith Simar said one concern he has heard from critics of the proposed golf cart ordinance is the potential speed conflict with cars and golf carts, which could result in a safety hazard.

Police Chief Merschman noted golf cart drivers can be cited and arrested for driving while intoxicated.

And as a member of the Breezy Point Police Department for 28 years, Merschman said there have not been any golf cart crashes on city roads. He mentioned three incidents, all that occurred in private property parking lots and included only minor dings and no injuries.

"When people don't like something, they often make it a safety issue," Merschman said, "and I don't think the data shows a safety issue."

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Lillehei said the city would put up signage if the ordinance were passed notifying drivers of the possibility of golf carts on the shoulder.

Perhaps the heaviest criticism of the proposal Wednesday came from County Engineer Tim Bray, who noted he was not fully on board with last year's ATV ordinance either.

"My job is to look at the whole county," Bray said, noting a blanket golf cart ordinance may not be the best decision for the county as a whole.

He backed up his point by showing pictures of several county-owned roads throughout Crow Wing County with little to no shoulder to accommodate golf carts.

And in terms of Merschman's findings of very few golf cart crashes, Bray suggested the reasoning is because they're not allowed on county roads.

"Just increasing more users of the roadway increases risk. And really what the question boils down to is," Bray asked, "are the county commissioners willing to trade that increased risk off for the convenience of Breezy Point and other places who might adopt it?"

But Crow Wing County Land Services Director Gary Griffin pointed out the important fact that Merschman, as a law enforcement officer, does not see a safety issue. Griffin added he knows Sheriff Scott Goddard-who has ties to the Breezy Point area-is in favor of this ordinance as well.

"If somebody's going to be concerned about public safety, it's going to (Goddard)," Griffin said.

Coming to a consensus

Four the five Crow Wing County commissioners attended Wednesday's meeting, with Commissioner Doug Houge absent.

When commissioner Bill Brekken was asked his opinion, as Breezy Point falls within his jurisdiction, he gave the green light.

"I would be supportive of this," Brekken said, acknowledging support from the mayor, city administrator and police chief. He noted the ordinance would make matters more appropriate, as golf carts drive on the side of the county roads already.

Recognizing the amount of support around this issue, Bray suggested revisions to increase his comfort level with the proposed ordinance.

The proposal already stated cities wanting to allow golf carts on county roads must make a formal request to the county. Bray added the county board must take formal action on each request and can approve the roads golf carts are allowed on. This means commissioners would assess requests on a case-by-case basis, so county roads with little or no shoulders would likely not be approved for golf carts.

The committee agreed unanimously to recommend this ordinance, with Bray's suggestions, to the county board on behalf of Breezy Point.

What's next?

The land services department is now taking public comments on the proposed ordinance, which can be accessed at www.crowwing.us/289/Recreation or by searching for "recreation" on the county website.

Copies of the ordinance are also available at the land services building from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday at 322 Laurel St. in Brainerd or by contacting the department at 218-824-1010.

Written comments may be:

• Emailed to landservices@crowwing.us , with "golf cart ordinance" as the subject line.

• Mailed to Crow Wing County Land Services Department, Attn: Golf Cart Ordinance, Land Services Building, 322 Laurel St., Suite No. 15, Brainerd, MN, 56401.

• Faxed to 218-824-1126.

After a 30-day comment period, the natural resources advisory committee will call a special meeting to discuss the feedback and likely make a recommendation for the county board to take up in late May. The board agreed to a special meeting because it's next regularly scheduled meeting is not until July and well into the golf cart season.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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