The province’s Bill 107, entitled the Get Ontario Moving Act, includes a clause that will allow off-road vehicles (ORV’s) on all municipal roads (but not County roads or highways) unless a municipality adopts a by-law restricting their use, reversing the current legislative onus which prohibits the use of ORV’s unless specifically permitted. When the law comes into effect in 18 to 24 months, unless municipalities establish restricting by-laws, ORV’s will be permitted by default in all municipalities, with a default speed limit of 80 km/hr. The implementation delay is designed to provide municipalities the time to review their road networks and decide how they wish to proceed.
The ORV amendment was initiated in response to requests from tour operators and residents of rural and northern communities seeking better access to remote areas by using local road networks. While many municipal governments have already passed by-laws allowing these vehicles on their roads when they see this will benefit their communities, this amendment forces municipalities who have not done so examine the issue.
Recognizing the importance of this issue, in July Council decided to hold a series of public meetings to obtain feedback. Rather than hold an introductory meeting on the concept, they chose to break the issue into specific routes for ORV operation. The intention of this approach was to manage the size of the crowd at each meeting and to ensure affected ratepayers along each route would have the opportunity to speak. It also focused the discussion to practical considerations rather than philosophical positions.
The first meeting took place on September 17th in the Banquet Hall of the new Community Centre. Under consideration was a proposed north/south ORV route connecting the Victoria Rail Trail to the Ganaraska Forest along the west side of the Township. The route connects the Victoria Rail Trail from Bethany to Dranoel Road, travels south to Fire Route 601 to Fallis Line, then moves west on Fallis Line to Glamorgan Road south until it becomes Fire Route 101 and ultimately reaches the Ganaraska Forest. Two of these roads are boundaries between Cavan Monaghan and the City of Kawartha Lakes, which would require both municipalities to permit Off-Road Vehicle use to permit off-road vehicle traffic on this route.
The Banquet Hall in the new community centre could not contain the crowd of roughly 250 people who came to share their views and learn more about the issue. Ratepayers along the proposed route had been contacted by the township directly to ensure they had the opportunity to voice their positions.
Approximately 40 people stepped up to the microphone to speak to Council, most of whom took the full five minute allocation to express their views. Some speakers presented written submissions with photos to back up their views. The majority of the submissions at the beginning of the meeting were firmly opposed to opening up municipal roads to off-road use. Local physicians expressed concern about the safety of these vehicles in general, having witnessed serious trauma from ORV accident victims in their professional lives. Other opponents were apprehensive about the impact the proposal would have on the environment, citing air and noise pollution and climate change concerns. Some speakers believed the proposal would increase financial burdens on the township through increased road maintenance costs due to wear from tires designed for off-road use, as well as increased liability insurance costs. Residents saw problems with the specific route, particularly the portion along Dranoel, where they suggested that poor sight lines, steep hills and generally poor road conditions made this section of the proposed trail inappropriate. Other residents along the trail described regular encounters with disrespectful ORV riders who already operate illegally along Dranoel. One Dranoel resident was surprised to learn that his road was NOT on a trail.
As the evening progressed, the tone shifted as more speakers rose to express support for opening municipal roads to OTV’s. Some residents explained that they had moved to the area seeking greater access to recreational ORV travel and suggested that this activity was part of an active life-style, encouraging outdoor recreation. Members of the business community suggested there would be significant economic benefits to the community with extended ORV access in the municipality. Some residents on the proposed trail also expressed support, saying that they have regular encounters with ORV riders on the road with no issue.
Members of the Kawartha ATV Association have been supporting this proposal, outlining their interests in a delegation to Council in May, and spoke up in favour of the proposal. This community-based ATV club promotes ORV riding in Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough County. They would like to partner with the township to extend access to safe and respectful rides through the township to build on their more than 250 km of existing trails. Funded by user fees, the organization provides extensive education to promote safe and responsible ORV operation, trail supervision through volunteer patrols and support for trail maintenance. Their members are committed to respecting property, the environment and the recreational pursuits of other trail users. It was also suggested that their $5 million in liability insurance could be extended to ORV users in the township in the event of a partnership agreement.
As the turnout clearly demonstrated, residents care deeply about this issue. Despite the diverse opinions in the room, the meeting proceeded with both sides expressing their views to a respectful audience, leaving everyone with a better understanding of the challenges ahead. Whether residents moved to the area to enjoy the peace and quiet or to better explore it on an ORV, there is consensus that this is a special place. A staff report is expected this month to outline the next steps in this issue, but emerging lawn signs suggest it will be difficult to find a decision that will satisfy both sides. KG