Supervisors vote to maintain status quo

Friday, August 10, 2018

PLYMOUTH CO. — A 4-1 decision by the Plymouth County Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting will keep ATVs and UTVs off county roadways.

It was at the July 24 supervisors meeting when Brett Niehus, a rural Le Mars resident, and Rick Wright of rural Merrill, approached the board asking them to consider legalizing the use of all-terrain vehicles on secondary roads countywide.

After much discussion at that meeting, Board Chairman Don Kass asked Plymouth County Sheriff Mike Van Otterloo to visit with area sheriffs whose counties have adopted an ordinance legalizing the vehicles.

On Tuesday, Van Otterloo came back in front of the board with his report.

“Part of the task was for me to talk with other sheriffs and I talked to eight — Calhoun, Clay, Emmett, O’Brien, Kossuth, Sac, Dickinson and Sioux,” said Van Otterloo.

“Aside from Sioux County (which just adopted an ordinance that took effect Aug. 6) the remaining counties have had an ordinance in place for three and a half to four years. One sheriff, and that was in Calhoun County, said he had one personal injury accident during that course of time, and in that case the operator had been drinking. The others said they didn’t have any type of accident with ATVs or UTVs,” Van Otterloo continued.

He added the sheriffs had not seen an increase in the number of complaints received and that in all of those county ordinances the use of ATVs and UTVs had been restricted to a minimum operating age of 18 years old.

“When I read this letter from the University of Iowa doctor (referring to the editorial which appeared in the July 31 issue of the Daily Sentinel), I couldn’t help but notice this study was done on ATVs, not UTVs. My personal opinion is ATVs maybe not. But if we’re going to do anything maybe the UTVs,” Van Otterloo told the board. “This is not going away. More and more counties are doing it and there’s a reason the state code has put a provision in there to let the counties do it because it is going to continue to come back and come back.”

Supervisor John Meis was quick to point out the state code in which Van Otterloo was referring to and had a different view on exactly what it is the state is allowing counties to do.

“I read the state code. Do you have a copy of the state code?” Meis asked Niehus.

After being met with a “no” by Niehus, Meis followed up stating, “well it would be helpful if you read that. I don’t really know how some of these counties are passing it for a whole county when the state code specifically says you’re supposed to be doing a study. To me, I think they’re opening themselves up to some liability there.”

Meis followed that by reading state code 321I.10 which states, “A registered all-terrain vehicle or off-road utility vehicle may be operated on the roadways of that portion of county highways designated by the county board of supervisors for such use during a specific period. The county board of supervisors shall evaluate the traffic conditions on all county highways and designated roadways on which all-terrain vehicles or off-road utility vehicles may be operated for the specified period without unduly interfering with or constituting an undue hazard to conventional motor vehicle traffic. In designating such roadways, the board may authorize all-terrain vehicles and off-road utility vehicles to stop at service stations or convenience stores along a designated roadway.”

Meis also referenced state code 321.234A which states, all-terrain vehicles may be used by farmers, however, only if they are engaged in the act of farming. In that code, it allows the operators when engaged for agricultural purposes to obtain fuel, food or a nonalcoholic beverage. The code further allows the vehicles to be used for surveying, construction, and emergency services and rescue.

“I don’t know if I want to step past what the state has already approved,” Meis said.

Van Otterloo questioned Meis’ take on the state code.

“Doesn’t the state code give you the ability?” Van Otterloo stated.

“The counties have the ability but they’re supposed to do a study on the roads and list the road that are okay to use,” Meis countered.

“If they so decide,” Van Otterloo responded.

Meis was quick to reply stating, “so we’re just going to say all the roads are good?”

“The state code is allowing you to do it,” Van Otterloo said.

“They’re allowing us to do it if we study the roads and determine that’s a safe place for an ATV and it’s not going to interfere with traffic. So my question is how do you open it up to all the county roads if you have a heavily trafficked road and you have this thing traveling down the road at 35 mph and someone comes up over a hill and comes up on the ATV or UTV,” Meis replied. “To me there’s just certain roads these things shouldn’t be on, period.”

Niehus questioned what the difference is between the off-road vehicles traveling 35 mph and tractors.

“I mean you get a little 4020 running up and down the road, those things do like 15-20 mph if you’re lucky,” he said.

Supervisor Craig Anderson was quick to offer his thoughts.

“We’re not comparing these things to tractors, we’re not comparing them to speed boats, and we’re not comparing them to crotch rockets. This stands all on its own,” Anderson said.

Kass echoed Anderson’s sentiment.

“One thing about a 4020 is it sits a little higher and like you (gesturing to Niehus and Wright) it’s actively engaged in agriculture and it’s legal to be on the road when you’re engaged in agriculture,” Kass stated.

“If we pass something along these lines we’ll have more of these types of vehicles on the county roads with people sightseeing from town who don’t even understand and may not be familiar with the traffic of farm machinery on county roads. And that’s just one safety issue for me,” he continued. “They don’t have airbags, there’s less rollover protection and I don’t know how stable they are on washboarded roads. I think there’s an overall safety issue with me that I’m not really in favor of them.”

Meis followed Kass’ comments in hopes of clarifying Niehus’ and Wright’s request.

“My other concern is it’s open to agriculture, it’s open to surveying and engineering, and it’s open to emergency use, so what you’re asking is that it’s open for recreation?” Meis asked.

Following a “yes” from Niehus, Meis continued, “so we’re opening up our county roads for recreation?”

Anderson made a motion to maintain the county’s current code regarding ATVs and UTVs.

Before anyone could second it, Wright asked the board if they could get a petition.

“Get a petition,” Anderson said. “We have a petition every four years, it’s called an election and I overwhelmingly have people saying don’t do this. Now, I have two guys here who are dedicated to it and I appreciate that but it doesn’t make up for the phone calls I’ve gotten, the letter I got sending me the newspaper editorial, and the e-mails I’ve received. So this petition deal is a great idea, but do you want me to get a petition saying we don’t allow it? It’s a waste of time.”

Kass asked for a second on Anderson’s motion, which Meis made. The motion passed 4-1 with Supervisor Mark Loutsch voting no.

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