To the Editor:
On August 26, 2014, the Vilas County Board will vote on an ordinance that by law will officially open Vilas County roads and forest land to ATVs and OHVs and repeal the 2004 binding resolution.
Many myths are circulating about the 2004 non-binding referendum that resulted in the 2004 resolution as well as the need for a new 2014 referendum to allow Vilas taxpayers a voice in their government.
Myth #1: The 2004 referendum “was the result of a two-year campaign heavily financed by outside sources,” a quote from Roger Flaherty’s Letter to the Editor in the July 23, 2014, Vilas County News-Review.
In July 2003, Presque Isle residents voted 10-1 to retain and further restrict their ordinance preventing ATV trails and routes on town roads and land. In the summer of 2003, Northwoods Citizens for Responsible Stewardship was formed. Supported by an enormous grass-roots movement, taxpayers throughout Vilas asked for a referendum to be placed on the February 2004 primary ballot.
The Vilas County Board agreed to the referendum. Vilas taxpayers volunteered their energy, time and money to “get out the vote,” using letters, phone calls, radio ads and yard signs. No outside influence. No outside money. All this work took less than a year and less than $1,000.
Myth #2: The language in the 2004 referendum was ambiguous.
Here is the exact wording of the 2004 referendum: “Do you favor allowing the operation of all-terrain vehicles on county-owned and county-forest lands in Vilas County?”
It couldn’t be more clear.
Myth #3: Only a small percent of Vilas’ total population voted in that primary.
On February 17, 2004, Vilas residents voted 63 percent to 37 percent to ban ATV trails and routes on Vilas county land. It was the largest voter turnout in Vilas history, 8,657 voted out of 15,000 registered voters (58 percent). Remember that all elections and issues are decided only by those who vote. We have no way of knowing how non-voters feel. As a result of the 2004 referendum, the Vilas County Board unanimously passed a binding resolution to uphold their current ordinance which banned ATVs and OHVs on county land.
Myth #4: “Vilas County is unique in that most of the taxpayers cannot vote on issues affecting them, they are not residents, so the referendum thing is a way for an “elite” group to make decisions without the input of all involved,” a quote from Ron De Bruyan, Chairman of Vilas County Board in a letter widely circulated before the July 22, 2014 meeting.
Vilas is not unique. Only registered voters are allowed to vote in all Wisconsin counties. In counties, like Vilas, that attract many people who own vacation homes and land, taxpaying residents often choose to vote where they have their primary home. These non-voting taxpayers, that Ron feels have “no input,” have been very vocal in asking for a 2014 referendum by writing letters to board members and newspapers, and by coming to every board meeting when ATVs are on the agenda. In fact the woman who organized the push for the 2004 referendum is a taxpayer who does not vote in Vilas,
Myth #5: “The Vilas County Board can’t schedule a referendum for every issue,” a quote from Steve Doyen in the Vilas County News-Review, July 16, 2014.
I have voted in Vilas for 11 years and there has only been one referendum, the 2004 referendum.
Surely once every 11 years is not too often to have a referendum on an issue that draws people to board meetings in standing-room-only numbers. The voters who have put so much time and effort into expressing their will deserve a new referendum.
Myth #6: A new 2014 referendum would discriminate against the elderly and disabled, according to Roger Flaherty in the Vilas County News-Review, July 23, 2014, Letters to the Editor section.
The handicapped in Vilas have unparalleled access to public lands through numerous state and county forest roads open to all street licensed vehicles like cars and three-wheeled motorcycles.
In addition to providing everyone access to nature, “since 1990 the DNR has maintained a permit system to allow individuals with disabilities to use motor vehicles on DNR lands as a mode of personal conveyance.” This opens outdoor areas that would be difficult to access by car.
In March 15, 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice passed rules that allowed Power Driven Mobility Devices (including ATVs) on all non-federal public areas including state trails. Clearly the disabled already have access to the great outdoors, and voting against ATVs will not change this.
On the wall in Governor Scott Walker’s office is a plaque that reads, “The will of the people is the law of the land.” To me, this sounds like the Vilas County Board is getting directions from the CEO of Wisconsin to hold a referendum.