Damakant Jayshi

The Marathon County Board on Tuesday approved an ordinance opening new routes for ATV and UTV use, after making changes to ensure respect for municipal control of their roadways.

The ordinance also will impose a speed limit that is contingent on proposed state legislation.

During the meeting, the Board of Supervisors also approved the new Supervisory Redistricting Plan based on the 2020 census, Marathon County’s Budget for 2022 and a 3 percent raise for supervisor salaries, among others. a raise of 3% for salaries of the supervisors for 2022 and 2023, among others.

Regarding the ATV/UTV ordinance change, the new language removes the county’s supremacy over local municipal authorities in the event the local roadways were closed to ATV/UTV traffic.

Nearly all members of the committee who had opposed any changes to the ordinance or delay in its passage voted in favor of the proposed changes. On Oct. 26, the majority of supervisors on the Board voted (19-13) in favor of more discussion about safety measures before moving forward.

The Board passed the tweaked ordinance after Board Chair Kurt Gibbs made yet another forceful defense of respecting local municipal control.

“Marathon County has had a long history of advocating for local control,” Gibbs said.

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Gibbs, who had spoken at recent Infrastructure and Public Safety committee meeting suggesting a cautious approach to the new routes, did so after handing over the presiding role temporarily to Vice Chair Craig McEwen “for the balance of the discussion of this agenda item”.

The approved amendment to the ordinance reads: ‘The municipality (village/town/city) in which the highway segment is located has adopted an ordinance opening its local roads to ATV/UTV traffic.’

To avoid confusion over an opened route facing a closed road, another amendment was added: ‘In the event that a highway segment serves as a municipality border, the segment will remain closed unless each municipality opens roadways within their jurisdiction.’

Supervisor Randy Fifrick (Dist. 15), Chair of the Infrastructure Committee, referred to the two maps in the meeting packet (pages 7 & 8): one based on MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) boundary and traffic volume and the second one “takes into account the public safety exemptions that allows the highway commissioner to close the highway segments (if) he believes those be closed based on those public safety threats.”

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The amendment on speed limit reads: ‘Operators on the ATV/UTV should observe the posted limit on the roadways. “In the event permitted by law, the maximum speed permitted for ATV/UTV operation on any route is 35 miles per hour.”

Gibbs clarified that the language is intended to reflect if it is permitted by law. The Wisconsin Senate (Senate Bill 506) and Assembly (Assembly Bill 516) have proposed an amendment to allow local bodies to post speed limit for ATVs/UTVs on highways in their jurisdiction. Under current law, a lower speed limit would be illegal and unenforceable, a point made by several speakers during the recent discussions at Public Safety and Infrastructure Committee meetings last week on the subject.

The new operating hours for ATVs/UTVs are 5 a.m. through 10 p.m., a significant change from the existing operating hours – one hour before sunrise and an hour after the sunset.

Damakant Jayshi is a reporter for Wausau Pilot & Review. He is also a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of GroundTruth Project that places journalists into local newsrooms. Reach him at damakant@wausaupilotandreview.com.