A large crowd turned out Thursday for an unusually contentious town board meeting in Newbold. The main topic of the night was the board vote on the ATV/UTV advisory referendum.
Townspeople went to the polls April 4 to answer an advisory referendum question on whether all 110 miles of town roads should be opened to ATV/UTV use. According to the town's tabulations, 260 voted "yes" while 223 voted "no." The narrow result left the town board with a lot to consider.
"Frankly, I was hoping for a little clarity from the citizens, but it is what it is," board chairman Dave Kroll said.
Kroll opened board discussion with a reminder that audience members could not contribute until the public comment period of the meeting. That reminder came as the first of many from Kroll, as several in attendance were prone to given their input throughout the night's meeting.
Supervisor Jim Staskiewicz said he has deep reservations about opening Newbold roads to ATV traffic due to safety issues. Though other towns in Oneida County allow traffic on their town roads, Staskiewicz said the lack of ATV trails in Newbold make for a different situation.
"They also all have ATV clubs that maintain the trails, register with the state, pay for signage," he said. "We do not."
Staskiewicz also said that with many of Newbold's businesses being taverns, drunk driving/riding is also a concern. Bringing statistics from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Staskiewicz reported that there were 22 ATV/UTV fatalities in 2016, 16 of those alcohol-related. Fourteen of the 22 fatalities took place on public roads.
Supervisor Mike McKenzie had a decidedly different take on the matter. McKenzie said the fact that neighboring townships have opened their roads in a safe matter should be enough evidence for Newbold to do the same.
"I think the people here in this room tonight are law-abiding citizens coming to us and asking for help," he said. "We owe it to them to consider it. In my opinion, I would be in favor of opening all the roads to ATV traffic."
Supervisor Ed Hammer said he shares Staskiewicz's concerns about potential safety hazards. He said he had confidence the citizens of Newbold would operate in a safe matter, but he expressed uncertainty about tourists who "think every place is a playground."
"I'm not totally opposed to the idea, but I'm not sure we have enough information," he said. "If the vote had been 400-20, I don't think there would be any question as to what we should do. But, this vote was very close."
Kroll said one of the biggest struggles for the board has been to remove personal feelings about the issue. He said alcohol usage is concerning, but so is a lack of consistency between townships.
He said if some townships have an ATV ordinance, while others do not, a lack of automobile awareness could be a factor.
Supervisor Bob Metropulos said the presence of undulating, curved roads throughout Newbold creates additional hazards for operators.
A motion was made to draft an ordinance that would open Newbold town roads to ATV and UTV traffic. The motion failed on a 2-3 vote, with McKenzie and Kroll voting "yes" and Hammer, Staskiewicz and Metropulos voting "no."
Hammer suggested forming a committee - to include both pro and anti-ATV members and town board representatives - to gather information and potentially reach a consensus after a six-month study. He then repeated the suggestion in the form of a motion.
Frustrated members of the public, roughly half of the visitors at the meeting, left the meeting following the vote to deny the ordinance. Various expletives were directed at the town board.
After settling the meeting back into order, Kroll said he would have "concerns about the committee" as this is the town board's decision to make.
The board voted on Hammer's motion, which failed 1-4.
To find compromise, Kroll suggested having the town board, with the help of neighboring ATV clubs, come up with a list of criteria for select roads to be opened for ATV/UTV use in Newbold. A motion to that effect carried on a 5-0 vote.
Kroll said he would come back to the April 27 town board meeting with a minimum set of standards for a road to be approved for ATV operation.
During the public comment period, Tim Rudawski, who has spearheaded the Newbold ATV/UTV cause, gave his opinion as to why opening the roads is in the best interest of the town.
"I have no problems with forming a club to help with safety education, signage, things like that, but what it comes down to is that whoever is on the ATV, or behind the wheel of a car, a boat, or a snowmobile, it is their responsibility to be safe," he said. "We use our ATVs differently than in other parts of the state. It's an entirely different culture."
Rudawski added that open roads would allow for better ice fishing and hunting access, provide a connection to neighboring communities who allow ATV use on roads and help further the vehicles utility benefits.
Evan Verploegh may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.