Cross Plains to Allow ATVs on Village Streets

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Kevin Murphy

CROSS PLAINS–By a 4-3 vote at their May 26 meeting, the Cross Plains Village Board opened streets to all-terrain vehicles and closed off a chance for a referendum on the long-contentious topic.

The narrow votes with Board Members Sarah Francois, Bill Brosius and Kevin Thusius, voting against an ordinance permitting ATVs and UTVs; and for an advisory referendum, shows how divided the village has become.

Discussion on social media turned to “bullying,” said Amalia Hicks, an ATV opponent, and even a board member was accused of intimidating speech during a previous board meeting. However, the accuser declined to pursue the matter.

The ATV controversy has extended for nearly a year and had reached the Village Board three times and was discussed by the Parks and the Public Safety committees. Petitions supporting ATVs gathered more than 300 signatures and petitions against had more than 200, an amount equal to 39 percent of those who voted in the April election, said Village President Jay Lengfeld.

The ordinance allows ATVs and Utility Terrain Vehicles on all village streets except US 14, (Main St.) between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. at the posted speed limit.

These vehicles can’t be operated, parked or trailered to parks, conservancies or school properties.

The operator is required to have proof of liability insurance and to be at least 16 years old, possess a valid driver’s license and have and successfully completed a state safety course.

State law allows 12 year olds to operate an ATV and the village attorney will see if the village can require an operator to be at least 16 years old.

The ordinance expires in a year if the board takes no further action on it, a potential selling point board member Lori Zander used in support of the ordinance.

“It’ a one-year sunset, but it won’t last that long if there’s complaints. It will be shut down. Skateboarders seem more dangerous to me than ATVs,” Zander said.

Police Chief Tony Ruesga said the department has already received a few complaints about ATVs traveling village streets.

Due the contentious nature of the matter, Ruesga said officers would not be giving out warnings, typical with new traffic ordinances, but would cite offenders when the ordinance takes effect this summer.

“I want support from the board for no-nonsense enforcement…You’ll get complaints from people being cited,” he said.

Signs will be posted at major entrances to the village prohibiting ATV use between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.

In a broad address supporting ATVs and opposing a referendum, Lengfeld noted that ATVs should be a part of the tourism industry that Cross Plains turned to after it couldn’t establish a new business park.

“We’ve been emphasizing that we’re the center of outdoor recreational activity (that includes) fishing, hiking, biking, snowmobiling. We’re trying to capture the outdoor tourism dollar…and this fits into that branding,” he said.

Lengfeld couldn’t speculate on how much money ATVs would bring to town but even a little more money in these tough economic times would be appreciated.

He also noted that other communities have successfully opened their streets to ATVs and there’s no risk to the taxpayer as no investment is required of the village. He also mentioned the one-year sunset clause.

“If it doesn’t work, I’ll let the ordinance die and would vote against it. I can’t find a good reason to vote against it [now],” Lengfeld said.

While several residents called for a referendum, saying the public needs to weigh in on such a divisive and impactful issue, Lengfeld said there’s been enough talk.

“We have had a healthy community discussion but it’s no longer healthy and we shouldn’t prolong it,” he said.

Preparing public information for a referendum would put more burdens on village staff already working on, COVID-19 response; COVID-proofing the November election, siting a new well, reducing water loss in the water utility, flood mitigation projects and the 2020 census, he said.

“I don’t want staff working on anything except those projects,” said Lengfeld.

Village Attorney Paul Johnson will put the new ordinance into final format before its published and implemented.

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