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by LeAnn R. Ralph
Editor’s Note: LeAnn R. Ralph serves as chair of the Town of Otter Creek
MENOMONIE — All-terrain vehicles will now be able to travel any of the county highways in Dunn County with the exception of Highway B.
On a vote of 20 “yes” to five “no” and one abstention, the Dunn County Board approved the ordinance amendment at the May 17 meeting.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, the county board received a number of comments, both in person and written comments submitted to the county, from members of ATV/UTV clubs who were in favor of opening all county highways.
The club members stressed that the people who belong to their organizations operate the ATVs/UTVs carefully, conscientiously and according to state law.
The ordinance requires ATVs/UTVs to operate on the far right of the pavement but prohibits them from operating on the shoulder of the road or in the ditches.
The ordinance allows ATVs/UTVs to travel at 35 mph or at the posted speed limit if it is less than 35 mph on county highways.
Residents in the Town of Otter Creek expressed concern that opening the county highways would increase ATV/UTV traffic on roads in Otter Creek that are already closed to all-terrain vehicles but that already see significant ATV/UTV traffic.
In addition to operating illegally on roads that are closed in Otter Creek, the all-terrain vehicles are operating illegally in other ways as well, such as young children who are driving and are not wearing helmets and are not accompanied by an adult, both of which are required by state law when operating on a road.
Rules for the Dunn County Board require ordinances to come before the board for a first and second readings.
On the first reading, the board can debate the ordinance, and then on the second reading the following month, the county board votes on whether to approve the ordinance.
The Dunn County Board suspended the rules for a second reading on a motion offered by Randy Prochnow, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the highway committee, and seconded by Gary Stene, county board supervisor from Colfax.
Michael Kneer, county board supervisor from Menomonie, asked why there was a motion to suspend the rules.
The highway committee recommended all county highways be opened last fall and had planned to bring the ordinance amendment to the county board in January or February, Prochnow said.
Amending the ordinance took longer than expected, so the ordinance should be approved on the first reading and not delayed any longer, he said.
At the last meeting of the highway committee the week before the county board meeting, the highway committee indicated the ordinance would come before the executive committee and the county board at the June meeting.
The highway committee met in the morning and the executive committee met in the afternoon, and a last-minute decision was made to bring the ordinance to the executive committee for the May meeting.
State law does allow agenda changes up to two hours before the meeting as long as the updated agenda is posted in three public places.
Presumably, the agenda was properly posted. The updated agenda was not uploaded to the county’s website.
The motion to suspend the rules passed on a voice vote, with several county supervisors voting against the motion.
Vaughn Hedlund, county board supervisor from Boyceville, was concerned about the ordinance requirement that all operators under 18 must be accompanied on an ATV by a parent or legal guardian.
How will two people ride on one ATV? he asked.
According to information about state law from the state Department of Natural Resources, it is illegal for two people to ride on an ATV constructed with a seat for one person. After-market seating modifications to accommodate another rider also are not permissible.
The ordinance also states that all ATV/UTV operators under the age of 18 must have a valid safety certificate in their possession.
Sean Breslin, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he was concerned about the insurance requirement.
Wisconsin does not require insurance on ATVs/UTVs, so that will place an additional burden on the sheriff’s department to enforce the county’s insurance requirement, he said.
Another concern is that during the winter months in years with a lot of snow and high snowbanks, the travel lanes will be too narrow allow both vehicle traffic and ATV/UTV traffic, Breslin said.
The ordinance allows ATVs/UTVs to operate on county highways year around, 24 hours per day.
State law requires ATVs/UTVs operating on the roads to have the headlights turned on at all times.
Headlights must be able to illuminate an object at least 200 feet away, and tail lights must be visible from at least 500 feet away during hours of darkness.
Larry Bjork, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he was concerned that the ordinance was too broad in opening all county highways.
Bjork said he also believed winter would be a problem and that deer hunting season would be a problem both in terms of visibility and whether riders would wear blaze orange and be carrying firearms.
State law does allow unloaded firearms to be carried on ATVs/UTVs. It is illegal to discharge any firearm from a moving or stationary ATV/UTV, unless you are a qualified disabled hunter with the proper permit that allows you to discharge a firearm from a stationary ATV/UTV.
Don Kuether, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he, too, believed the ordinance was too broad in opening all county highways.
Anne Vogl, county board supervisor from Menomonie, asked if the county ordinance would over-ride the fact that some township roads are closed.
The county’s ordinance would not over-ride closed roads in townships, said Nick Lange, county corporation counsel.
Why is county Highway B excluded? Kneer asked.
The ordinance prohibits ATV/UTV traffic on Highway B from Highway 12/29 by Menomonie to state Highway 40 south of Colfax.
Highway B has a high volume of traffic and is the busiest road in the county, Prochnow said.
Highway B also goes past Exit 45, where there is a high volume of semi-truck traffic, he said.
Other counties have opened up all of their county roads with no issues, he said.
Larry Bjork offered an amendment to the ordinance that the county board would review it in three years.
The review should include reports from the sheriff’s department, the highway committee and the ATV/UTV clubs on what works and what does not work, he said.
The ordinance can be reviewed by the highway committee at any time, Lange said.
It is important that issues come back to the county board so that the board does not approve something, “and that’s it forever,” Bjork said.
Stene said he did not believe the amendment was needed because the county board could review the ordinance at any time.
Tim Lienau, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said he was in favor of the amendment in view of the reports of multiple young children riding ATVs on the roads at high speeds.
“Children are our precious commodity,” and the county board should review the ordinance with input from the sheriff’s department and the community, he said.
The Dunn County Board approved the amendment to review the ordinance in three years.
Andrew Hagen, county board supervisor from Menomonie, asked about signs for the ATV/UTV routes.
If all of the county highways are open as ATV/UTV routes, then signs would need to be placed at the boundaries coming into Dunn County, Lange said.
Highway B would have to be signed as closed, he said.
Must signs be placed on the county highways where town roads are closed? Hedlund asked.
The towns are responsible for the signs on town roads. The ATV/UTV clubs typically buy the signs and put them up, Lange said.
According to the ordinance, the signs shall not require any expenditure of county funds or other county resources.
Is there any way for the municipalities to come back to the county board, Hagen asked.
The municipalities can contact the highway commissioner or the highway committee at any time, said Kelly McCullough, county board supervisor from Menomonie and chair of the Dunn County Board.