Oregon Town Hall

Oregon Town Hall is located at 1138 Union Road.

The Town of Oregon is considering whether to draft an ordinance allowing all-terrain and utility task vehicles access to its roads.

State law limits where ATVs and UTVs can operate on township roads, town attorney Lawrence Bechler wrote in an advisory letter to the Plan Commission, which discussed the request from local groups advocating for it Tuesday, April 27.

The commission gave a mixed response to the proposal, as did letters written to the governing body and the nearly 50 people in attendance. It considered seven recommended options at the meeting, providing a unanimous vote on Option No. 7– that the town’s Board of Supervisors put an advisory referendum question on a future election ballot, possibly in fall 2022.

The commission also considered recommending no change – Option No. 4, would have been to “leave everything as is” – but a motion on that failed 3-3, with chair Brian Duffin casting the tiebreaker. He said the town has been in talks for two years about the potential for drafting an ordinance.

Other options included allowing ATVs and UTVs to operate on all township roads excluding highways, or on all roads excluding highways, subdivisions and cul-de-sacs, and to wait to make a decision for two years or until “contiguous” townships draft such ordinances.

The referendum option would let voters decide on whether the town should draft the ordinance, Duffin said at the meeting. It would also allow town staff more time to conduct research about how other municipalities have fared when drafting their own ordinances and give residents time to become more familiar with the idea of allowing ATVs and UTVs on township roads, Duffin said.

The town put out a survey a few years ago to assess residents’ interest in the idea. It showed 57% of respondents, or 149 people out of 262 respondents, did not not want them on town roads.

A majority of the attendees who spoke expressed safety concerns and asked how an ATV or UTV ordinance would be enforced. Others said numbers from the survey don’t accurately reflect what residents actually want.

The Town Board was scheduled to meet May 4, but no action item was listed for the matter as of Friday, May 30.

Favoring voices

Resident Brad Clark, who drafted a proposed ordinance similar to one that was brought before the Township of Berry’s board in August 2020, was a favoring voice at the meeting.

Both draft ordinances are available in the Plan Commission packet.

He, and other residents, said at the meeting the 262 survey respondents comprise only 8% of the town’s population, while the 57%, or 149 people, who opposed drafting an ordinance represent around 4%.

The Town of Berry board postponed discussion on the proposed ATV and UTV ordinance and has not revisited it, according to online meeting agendas.

But Clark requested in a letter that the Town of Oregon adopt an ordinance supporting access when it is able to get around to doing so.

“Currently, there are over 36,000 miles of ATV routes in the State of Wisconsin,” Clark wrote. “By passing such an ordinance, the town of Oregon will be joining numerous other communities that have taken advance of this enjoyable pastime.”

His draft ordinance states that residents 16 years or older should be allowed to operate an ATV and that the vehicles should be operated only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., and not on roads with speeds higher than 35 mph.

Safety concerns

Bechler’s letter in the Plan Commission packet asked how an ordinance would fall in line with state statutes.

And a letter from Municipal Judge Beth Cox listed some enforcement concerns and noted the town terminated its contract with the Village of Oregon police department around five years ago.

Bechler wrote in his letter to commissioners that no roads currently qualify for adding the vehicles to the traffic mix, based on Wisconsin statutes. His advisory letter said any ordinance could break state law over the proposed ATV and UTV rules.

Based on state statute, he stated, such vehicles can only go on roads that have a speed limit of 35 mph or less.

Commissioner Tim Yanacheck noted at the meeting that a majority of roads with that speed or lower are located in town subdivisions.

A map of ATV and UTV trails by county also indicates there are no such routes currently defined by that state that are operated within Dane County.

Bechler wrote that people as young as 12 may operate an ATV on state designated trails when a parent or guardian is present, but not on trails in the town.

There are also limited circumstances under which helmets would be required, he also wrote.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.

Emilie Heidemann joined Unified Newspaper Group in 2018, where she serves as the community and business editor for four publications, as well as a quarterly magazine. Emilie covers the Village of Oregon and Fitchburg community beat.