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Prairie City News

Ticket to Ride

Should Jasper County allow UTV or ATVs on public roads?

SULLY — Craig Maasdam opened his Fast Trax Sports dealership in Sully in 1996, selling snowmobiles, side-by-sides, all-terrain and utility task vehicles. Farmers and ag-professionals are his biggest customers.

“In 2008, when the rest of the economy was crashing, the farm economy was good. That was one of my best years,” he said.

But the steady drop in grain prices over the last five years, as well as the recent U.S./China trade war, have hurt not only farm profits, but support business like Fast Trax that rely on producers regularly upgrading their equipment to keep sales steady.

In Iowa, state law allows ATV/UTV operators using the vehicles for farms tasks to be on rural state and county roadways. For recreational use, ATV/UTV restrictions are the domain of county governments. Jasper County does not currently allow recreational ATVers on public roads, but Maasdam is hoping to change that.

The Sully native has asked the Jasper County Board of Supervisors to consider an ordinance allowing recreational ATV/UTV riders on public county roads. In an email to the board Jan. 14, Maasdam presented the supervisors with a copy of a similar ordinance approved recently in Wright County.

Maasdam estimates allowing recreational riders of ATVs legal access to county roads could increase his and other Jasper County dealers’ sales by 20 percent. At Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting, Maasdam stated lobbied for a study to see how a similar ordinance could be implemented in Jasper County.

“This is for the non-farm citizens,” he said. “For me, this would help my business because I can sell these vehicles to people who would not have the legal right to be on the road otherwise. They won’t be using the (U.S./State) highways, just the county roads, sunset to sundown. That’s how most of the ordinances are (written).”

The board has agreed to consider options for recreational ATV/UTV use. Board vice-chair Doug Cupples asked supervisor Brandon Talsma on Tuesday to begin researching the proposal.

Forty-three of Iowa’s 99 counties have some type of ordinance allowing and governing ATV and/or UTV use on county roadways. The most populous is Clinton County with 49,166 people. Three other counties — Woodbury, Dubuque and Story — are exploring the idea.

Clinton County’s Board of Supervisors passed its ordinance July 2017. It does have several restrictions. All riders:

• must have a valid driver’s license.

• under the age of 16 must take an Iowa Department of Natural Resources safety course, carry that safety certificate on board and can not operate the vehicle after sundown.

• are required to register the vehicle with the IDNR and display that registration visibly.

• must have proof of $50,000/$100,000 liability insurance.

ATV/UTV owners in Clinton County obtain permits to operate through the IDNR and are only permitted to be on county roadways or shoulders, not in the ditch or road foreslope. Violation of the ordinance in Clinton County is subject to a $100 fine.

“Street motorcycles ride the street. Bicycles have recreational trails. It isn’t fair that ATVs and UTVs don’t have a place to ride, too,” Maasdam said.

Maasdam believes, like recreational trails for bicycles, legalizing ATV/UTVs on county roads could provide an economic boost to small towns from riders stopping at restaurants, gas stations and downtown retailers.

Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln told the Newton Daily News in a phone interview Wednesday, regularly organized rides from town to town have popped up since the ordinance passed and appear to benefit local small-town business. According to the Clinton County Recorder’s office, since the ordinance went into effect, 1,099 ATV-style vehicles have been registered in Clinton County.

“I’m fine with the ordinance,” Lincoln said. “We have only had a couple of instances where we’ve had people breaking the ordinance. We haven’t had much on the negative side.”

There have only been two documented violations with ATV/UVTs in Clinton County, Lincoln said, since July 2017. One was a drunk driving charge of an ATV driver, the other was an individual with an active warrant who used his ATV to flee from deputies.

Several years before the ordinance, Lincoln said his officers encountered someone who claimed to be using an ATV to drive between farms — legal in Iowa Code — but was actually out for a recreational ride.

The man was cited, but the sheriff said the individual argued Clinton County’s ATV rules were outdated. Lincoln, who is also a former member of the Red Cross Board of Directors which uses ATV/UTVs during disaster situations, agreed. The sheriff felt ATV regulations in Clinton County had not caught up with all the improvements in safety technology on the vehicles.

“I found it to be a rather useful tool if used in the right manner. The sheriff’s office has two side-by-side UTVs,” Lincoln said.

But it wasn’t without opposition. Lincoln said the Clinton County Attorney was not in favor of the ordinance.

In Jasper County, Sheriff John Halferty said some municipalities already have ordinances governing the use of golf carts and ATVs within city limits and recommended the supervisors consult with city councils and mayors before drafting a countywide ordinance. County code could allow for towns to opt out of allowing ATVs/UTVs on city streets.

“There may be a town that didn’t allow it but as far as enforcement, we don’t’ get a lot of calls on it, “Halferty said. “We do have the agricultural society that can go to and from if they’re doing fieldwork, chores and livestock.

“Some of the four-wheelers and ATVs can be incredibly fast,” Halferty added. “I wouldn’t say it is a huge issue, but we do get some calls on that. We have enforced it to some degree but we enforce it with discretion. It doesn’t necessarily mean we write them a ticket or tow their vehicle or anything like that.”

If a similar ordinance is drafted in Jasper County, the recorder’s office would likely need to create the infrastructure to handle ATV/UTV registrations. Recorder Denise Allan told the board Tuesday, a possible ordinance has become a topic of discussion among the citizens who she serves.

“I’ve had an increased number of people ask how they can get an ordinance passed to ride on the county roads,” Allan said. “To me, it’s becoming a bigger issue, for sure.”

Contact Mike Mendenhall at 641-792-3121 Ext 6530 mmendenhall@newtondailynews.com.

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