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Sauk County panel wants ATV route opponents to have say

A committee is working to rewrite a Sauk County ordinance governing ATV access to public highways.

A committee rewriting Sauk County’s off-road motorized vehicle ordinance wants the ability to consider public opposition when deciding whether to grant highway access.

Members of the Sauk County Board’s Highway and Parks Committee voted Wednesday to postpone action on a new version of the ordinance until August, so that new language giving weight to public input can be inserted.

The ordinance, which the panel has been working to revise since May, governs the process by which all-terrain and utility-task vehicle enthusiasts gain access to county highways. Highway Commissioner Patrick Gavinski presented his oversight committee with the latest revisions Wednesday.

Supervisor Kevin Lins of Spring Green, a member of the committee, pointed to a section that listed criteria the county must consider when reviewing ATV club applications for highway access. It required input from the applicants, municipalities, the highway commissioner and law enforcement, but not the public.

Lins said the county should be permitted to consider the opinions of residents who might oppose a particular route, and he recommended new language be inserted to allow that.

Supervisor Brian Peper of Loganville, an ATV advocate, opposed the addition, saying it would allow people from anywhere in the county — even those who don’t live near a proposed route — to sign a petition and defeat an application.

Lins said there was no requirement that applicants live near the section of highway on which they are seeking ATV access. Therefore, he said, the county should not impose such a requirement on county residents who might oppose an application.

“We live in a democratic society here,” Lins said. “So if there’s 60 people that want a route and 100 that don’t, why should we have to ignore the people that don’t?”

The committee voted 3-1 to postpone a vote on the rewritten ordinance until its next meeting, so that Lins’ suggested language can be inserted. The committee’s approval next month would send the rewritten ordinance to the full board for final consideration.

Peper, who voted against the postponement, said he will vote to approve the ordinance next month, regardless of any additional input that his fellow committee members might have.

“We’ve been beating this thing with a stick long enough,” he said.

Last spring, the board turned down ATV clubs’ request for county highway access in 21 towns after supervisors learned that some local governments hadn’t been notified of the route expansion.

County officials later informed supervisors that the application was invalid because it did not include a list of landowners who the clubs contacted in efforts to establish off-road alternatives, as required by the current ordinance.

The Baraboo News Republic recently reviewed all route applications the county has approved since the ordinance was adopted five years ago, and found that none of them included such a list. The documents show the county has opened more than 70 miles of its highways to ATV and UTV clubs, even though their applications didn’t meet ordinance requirements.

In response to the newspaper’s finding, Gavinski has said all applications approved by the county board are presumed valid unless a court of law decides otherwise. He said the county won’t review the prior approvals unless someone aggrieved by the process files a claim.

The rewritten ordinance would eliminate the provision requiring clubs to demonstrate that they first sought an off-road alternative. But it also would create new criteria for approving highway access, including a provision that requires the county to seek input from the municipality in which a proposed route is located.

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos

Reporter for the Baraboo News Republic.