All Marinette County roads open to ATV/UTVs

By: 
Shirley Prudhomme

MARINETTE – At its meeting on Tuesday, May 28, Marinette County Board fulfilled the wishes of about 1,600 petitioners by voting to open all county roads in unincorporated areas for ATV/UTV use 24/7, year round. They also raised the speed limit to match posted speeds for all motorized vehicles, and agreed to operators of the vehicles can use either lighted turn signals or hand turn signals.

Prior to Tuesday’s County Board approval of the requested ordinance changes, only specifically designated roads in the county’s 330-mile road system were open to the recreational vehicles, and then only during daylight hours when there was no snow on the ground.

During time for public comment at an Infrastructure Committee meeting on May 8, Mark Winters, president of Southern Marinette County Snowmobile Club, had presented petitions with over 1,000 signatures in support of the ATV/UTV ordinance changes that were ultimately approved. At that meeting, Sheriff Randy Miller also expressed support for the ordinance change, while Highway Commissioner Eric Burmeister was concerned about problems highway maintenance workers operating vehicles with 6-foot wings may have when they are trying to clear snow and ice covered roads.

Sheriff Miller said he researched after receiving the petition, and of the 26 counties that responded to his inquiries, none had problems with allowing year-round ATV/UTV use. Marinette County had one ATV/UTV fatality and three other ATV/UTV accidents last year, and all were alcohol-related, Miller said. Both Miller and Burmeister agreed that raising the ATV/UTV speed limit to the same speed as other vehicles on the roads would reduce the danger.

There were approximately 50 members of the public on hand for the May 28 board meeting, mostly in support of the ATV/UTV requests.

First speaker under public comment was Kaitlin Deschane, clerk/treasurer for the village of Crivitz. Deschane said last year the village opened all streets to ATV/UTV use to match the Town of Stephenson with no problems. She noted that this past winter had little snow, and the snowmobilers visit, which creates financial distress to local businesses dependant on tourism. She said the ATV/UTV users did visit, which helped the businesses, and urged the board to approve the proposed ordinance changes.

Next speakers were Nancy and Dan Cormier, on behalf of Iron Snow Shoe. They asked the county to open all its roads to ATV/UTV travel, 24/7, year round. In February Cormier had presented the board with petitions with over 600 signatures in support of her request. The Courmiers said the Wisconsin ATV Association works with local sheriff’s offices to teach operating safety rules and encourage riders to operate safely and obey laws. They said there are over 500,000 of these recreational vehicles registered in Wisconsin, they add $5 billion a year to the state economy and presented other information on the economic impact. Last year Wisconsin ranked first in the nation as an ATV/UTV destination. 

 Cormier said the previous week over 700 registered ATV/UTV vehicles participated in a ride, and there was only one minor backup accident. Cormier added the Town of Stephenson has six snow plow drivers, and all town roads have been open to ATV/UTVs 24/7, year-round, for seven years with no problems.

After some discussion on the board floor, the ordinance change was approved by a 22 to 6 vote margin, with Supervisors Jim Bird, Stan Gruszynski, Ken Hanson, Shirley Kaufman, Irene Mayou and Bill Stankevich opposed. Supervisor Bonnie Popp abstained and Supervisor Tom Gromala was absent. The ordinance change setting the penalty for operating without use of signal lights or hand signals, passed with 28 votes in favor. Kaufman opposed and Bird abstained.

During discussion prior to the vote, Stankevich said the board has struggled with this problem for eight years, trying to make it practical for everyone. He wished they could have a little compromise - for example omit County U, where it is needed only for 100 yards, and County I, which is a highly traveled road with an approved trail running nearby to Goodman Park. He also asked why the recreational vehicles need access after 2 a.m., and suggested that restriction would help snowplow drivers. 

Supervisor and Village of Crivitz Trustee Ginger Deschane, said they have had fewer ATV/UTV accidents since opening all village streets a year ago.

Supervisor and City of Peshtigo Alderman Allen England, noted the recreational vehicle drivers can be 12 if they are accompanied by an adult, and asked if there is anything in the law about how old you must be to drive on a county highway. The answer was the ATV/UTV driver can be alone if over age 16, and 12-15 with completed safety certification training and accompanied by a parent or guardian.

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