March 9, 2024 at 11:58 a.m.
Cass County Board:

Commissioners hear concerns over proposed new ATV ordinance

By By Kyndra Johnson of the Press-Citizen | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

   BACKUS— Board Chair Neal Gaalswyk began the regular meeting on Tuesday, Mar. 6 with the Pledge of Allegiance. Shortly after approval of regular and consent agendas, he opened a public hearing for the second reading of the proposed ordinance regarding regulation of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on county highways and public right of ways. 

   There were several citizens in attendance again to share their concerns regarding the ordinance. Andy Bray’s main concern was regarding having a lower speed limit for Class 1 ATVs. His suggestion was to have the speed limit be the posted speed limit for both classes of ATVs. He mentioned that all age groups ride these ATVs, and the younger riders may not be able to handle riding out of the ditches if going at a slower speed than traffic. An example given was if an individual was on an ATV driving at a slower speed than traffic and two logging trucks are traveling in opposite directions, where would the ATV driver have to go if they both passed him at the same time. If the driver was inexperienced they may loose control when having to drive more along the shoulder of the road. A second option Bray mentioned was to budget more funds to maintain ditches and allow Class 1 ATVs to continue to operate there.

   Wayne Eckberg, who sent in a letter of concern, but was also in attendance to voice his concerns. He mentioned after reading the published concerns from the first hearing, he agreed that safety turn signals, directional and back up lights, and rear view mirrors be implemented on all ATVs, that speed limits be implemented to aid in the management of unsafe speeds for ATVs, and that all ATVs be licensed. Eckberg also recommended that liability insurance be mandated for all ATVs that operate on all roadways, trails, and parks with the sole exception of operating on private land. He shared a few examples in his written letter of unsafe and reckless ATV operation on the gravel road on which he resides within Woodrow Township, and stated he felt “requiring liability insurance ensures that ATV owners/operators be held accountable for the damage, injury, and/or death resulting from their actions.”

   Craig Wadzink, Vice President of Woodtick Wheelers ATV Club, spoke in regard to the speed limit concern. He mentioned he agrees there is a safety concern with having Class 1 ATV’s operate at a lower speed limit, but also mentioned that children under 15 are required to have a licensed adult riding within the group. Therefore, this will be a teaching opportunity for these youth from parents.

   Terry Cook, a retired police chief, shared his opinion regarding the requirement of extra safety equipment on ATVs by stating all ATVs, are for the most part, not manufactured and designed the same as a licensed motor vehicle. Most UTVs are already equipped with headlights and brake lights.  However, he doesn’t feel ATVs should be required to have turn signals or rear view mirrors and to equip the ATVs with those extras is sometimes costly. However, Cook does agreed that the slower speed limits for the Class 1 ATVs could be dangerous and cause more problems. He also mentioned the enforcement along with fines seem to be a bit harsh. Currently the ordinance states “1. A person who violates any provision of this ordinance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, and 2. A person who permits another to operate an all-terrain vehicle in violation of this ordinance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.”

   After the public hearing was closed, County Administrator Josh Stevenson reported back to the board with recommendations from the ATV Ordinance Committee. It was stated the Committee reviewed the recommendations received during the first public hearing and did recommend changing the word “may” with “shall” in item number one to read: “An all-terrain vehicle shall be operated on any County Highway in the same direction of travel as other vehicular traffic.” Stevenson mentioned both the request to limit the speed for both Class 1 and Class 2 ATVs to 30 miles per hour and the request to require all ATV’s to be highway licensed with turn signals, back up lights, break lights, running lights, and rear-view mirrors were discussed, however, the committee did not make any recommendations to the board for those changes to the ordinance. The committee also discussed the request to include an option for organized township roads to be covered by this ordinance and was reported that townships with interest in regulating ATVs like the proposed county ordinance should consider adopting an ordinance and developing an enforcement plan of their own. He reported that the County can not enforce a municipal or township ordinance under MN Statute 84.928 Subd. 1(k).

   Gaalswyk and Commissioner Jeff Peterson both mentioned the harshness of the enforcement of charging an individual with a misdemeanor. Gaalswyk mentioned a misdemeanor is usually given for DWIs, school bus violations or reckless driving, while other typical traffic violations receive a petty misdemeanor. It was also mentioned that a misdemeanor would follow an individual and could affect their future. 

   After much discussion regarding enforcement and hearing thoughts from Sheriff Bryan Welk, the board decided to revise both number one and two under enforcement in the ordinance from misdemeanors to petty misdemeanors with fines up to $300. Therefore, a motion was made to approve the second reading with the proposed change from the committee and the changes from the board to the enforcement section with a third hearing and final adoption to be held at the next regular meeting March 19. The motion was passed unanimously.


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