Damakant Jayshi

After a lengthy discussion, the Marathon County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday referred an Infrastructure Committee proposal to designate certain county highway segments as ATV/UTV routes and trails to the Public Safety Committee.

Once the Public Safety Committee considers the ordinance, which addresses regulation of ATVs and UTVs in the county, the matter would then be decided by the full board.

Some on the Infrastructure Committee balked at referring the ordinance back to Public Safety. But Board Chair Kurt Gibbs, citing safety concerns and the Marathon County Sheriff’s Department’s reservations about opening the routes to ATVs/UTVs, made a forceful case to discuss the proposal further.

Dist. 37 Supervisor Allen F. Opall moved to refer the proposal to the Public Safety committee, while Dist. 10 Supervisor Donna Krause seconded the motion. After an equally strong pushback from those supporting the proposal, the County Board referred the matter to Public Safety by a vote of 19-13. Five members were absent.

Opall’s motion prompted Dist. 30 Supervisor Richard Gumz to accuse the board of bureaucratic red tape in ignoring the wishes of the people. He said he received more than 500 signatures in support of opening the routes for the ATVs and UTVs. Gumz’s assertion was supported by Dist. 29 Supervisor Chris Dickinson, who detailed the work already done by the Infrastructure Committee, including looking at safety aspects as well as consulting with the Sheriff’s Department and other counties before forwarding the proposal to the Board.

Gibbs, who represents residents in the Edgar area, acknowledged that his community has already opened town roads to ATV and UTV use, but said there is a significant difference between Edgar and roads that allow 1,500 vehicles per day. Gibbs said he is unaware of any single town road that would fit that description.

The Infrastructure Committee, after considering maps of highways considering different number of vehicle counts, ultimately settled on the 1,500-vehicle count. There was no reason to rush, Gibbs added.

Another Infrastructure Committee member, Dist. 6 Supervisor Jeff Johnson, objected to Gibbs’ remarks that they were rushing their proposal. He defended it, saying the Board could always revisit the matter if needed.

The chair of the Board also reminded the members of their constant refrain of retaining “local control.” Most members do not lose the opportunity to express their resentment of state or federal government telling them to do or avoid certain actions.

“You talk about local control,” Gibbs said, adding some local officials do not want to open their roads to ATVs and UTVs.

Opening routes and trails for ATVs/UTVs must be posted, according to the county’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.

“Operating an ATV/UTV on a County road is only permitted on those sections that are posted as a designated ATV/UTV Route,” the PRF page says. “Speed limits for ATV/UTV use on the approved routes/roadways is 35 mph.”

The route also must display signage to that effect.

Dist. 3 Supervisor William Harris suggested considering different timings if the routes were to be opened.

To read the Infrastructure Committee’s amendment, click here and go to page 49.