BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – The county is just a couple weeks away from instituting an ordinance allowing the use of ATVs and UTVs on the county’s secondary roads.
About 50 piled into the meeting room at the Lee County Sheriff’s office during the Lee County Board of Supervisor’s meeting Tuesday morning to hear what direction the board is moving.
The ordinance would, for the first time legally, allow for the recreational vehicles to be used on county gravel roads as long as they are permitted by the state through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, as well as the county recorder’s office.
Several at the meeting complained that requiring the county registration would eventually hurt the county because people coming to the area to ride wouldn’t be able to if they didn’t register with the county.
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County Attorney Ross Braden said he wasn’t sure how that would work, but he said based on the ordinance, riders would have to have a Lee County registration.
John Garrels said county registration could limit incoming ridership, as well as possibly open the county to liability for charging a fee above and beyond what state requires in it’s laws.
“If we need to register these in Lee County, do we also have to register in Des Moines County and Van Buren County, but if I’m not mistaken if we have statewide licensing that’s good for the whole state. I think we’re severely limiting our ability to attract people coming to the county to ride if we have county by county licensing,” Garrels said.
“But someone also needs to look into whether or not that opens the county to liability again.”
Braden said the state code limits the county’s legal exposure in accidents involving the vehicles.
Many in the audience said Van Buren County doesn’t require the county registration, only the state DNR registration.
Jason Smith, with Midwest Performance, said he’s had discussions on legalized riding.
“When Van Buren first legalized it, it scared me to death. My first thought was a 16-year old kid with no shirt on, hat backwards flying down the gravel road, drinking, and being stupid,” Smith said.
“That was my first concern. It was going to give my industry a bad name, but it hasn’t been that way at all.”
Smith said they need to keep the registration simple.
“My opinion is if your state registered where you can run that VIN and see who owns that machine in your state with a valid driver’s license just like a vehicle, than your legal,” he said.
Supervisor Gary Folluo said he’d like to see a sunrise to sunset time frame for running on gravel roads. Most in attendance disagreed with that time frame.
Supervisor Rich Harlow indicated he would support unlimited hours for operation.
Steve Armstrong, owner of Armstrong Tractor in Donnellson said this was a way for riders to tell the county they want to use their roads and they’re willing to pay for it.
“We need to make Lee County a destination,” he said.
Armstrong also said people who are going to break the law, are going to break the law.
“You try to make the world idiot proof, the world’s going to make better idiots,” he said.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said it should be a freedom, but it has to be handled responsibly.
“Too many times in this country we take a freedom away from people. I don’t think it’s right to deprive those people if they want to do it recreationally and do it safely, they should have that right,” he said.
Ross Braden reminded everyone that riding is still illegal on public roadways, but the state has offered some leeway.
“State default is that it’s illegal, but the state has allowed county’s the authority in certain circumstances to allow travel on county roads,” Braden said
Supervisor Gary Folluo said he wanted language in the ordinance that would require an annual review of the ordinance.
The board approved the first reading by a 4-1 vote with Harlow voting against the measure in favor of unlimited hours for the riders.
The ordinance will still require two more readings and votes before it becomes part of the county code