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Proposal to open Renville County roads to OHVs advances, action likely next week

OLIVIA — An ordinance that would open Renville County roads to recreational use by all types off-highway vehicles continues to move forward.

Members of the Renville County Board of Commissioners discussed setting a 40 mile-per-hour speed limit for the vehicles, and possibly limiting the areas where golf carts could drive as they took up the issue again on Tuesday. Commissioners are expected to vote on the ordinance at their next meeting.

The ordinance would allow licensed drivers ages 16 and over access to all county roads when driving all-terrain vehicles, side-by-side vehicles, mini-trucks, golf carts and utility task vehicles. The vehicles would need to have a county permit and safety features such as rearview mirrors.

Jen Mueller, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer, and Renville County Sheriff Scott Hable met with the commissioners.

Mueller told the commissioners she has obtained copies of ordinances from other counties in the state that allow off-highway vehicles on roads, but most are focused on ATVs. She is not aware of any allowing all types of off-highway vehicles.

Neither of the law enforcement officers objected outright to the proposed ordinance, but they cited some concerns.

“I’m here to serve this county. Whatever you guys decide, that’s fine. I will work with you,” said Mueller.

As a DNR officer, Mueller said she felt obligated to express concerns about the safety of allowing ATVs on paved roadways. “I have to throw that in. They are not designed and I’m sure you guys have debated it back and forth. They are not designed for high-speed travel on paved roads.”

Sheriff Hable also cited concerns about driving ATVs at highway speeds on paved roadways, noting that he believed they would handle higher speeds better on the gravel shoulders. He suggested that the commissioners consider restrictions on the roads that are opened to ATVs, or even limiting them to shoulders in some places.

The sheriff had also sent the commissioners state statistics on ATV fatalities in the state. They vary from 15 to 25 deaths per year.

The discussion comes as Renville County is trying to address what is one of the state’s highest rates of traffic fatalities per capita on its roadways. It is ranked 84 out of the 87 counties in the state by this measure, putting it in the bottom one-third of the state’s counties.

The commissioners noted that they are hearing feedback on the proposed ordinance, both pro and con. Commissioner Randy Kramer, of Hector, said he heard a variety of views at the annual township meetings he attended last week.

He noted that about 90 percent of those attending the meetings are involved in agriculture, and consequently already are allowed to legally drive off-highway vehicles on most roadways as long as they are involved in agricultural work.

Commissioner LaMont Jacobson, of Sacred Heart, said the feedback and discussions have strengthened his support for the ordinance. He joined other commissioners in expressing support for including a 40 mph speed limit in the ordinance, rather than allowing off-highway vehicles to observe the posted speed limit of 55 mph on paved roads.  

“Everything else that’s in there I support,” he said.

In later discussions, the commissioners raised concerns about allow slow-moving golf carts on all county roads. They informally voiced support for limiting golf carts to roads within an unspecified distance of golf courses.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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