St. Clair council votes down ORV bylaw

·4 min read

St. Clair council remains undecided on the specifics of a bylaw to govern off-road vehicle use. But oddly enough the delay means ORV use is legal in the township – for now.

The issue of ORV usage in the township has come up at the past several council meetings. This was prompted by a new provincial rule which came into effect New Year’s Day, allowing for the use of ORV on all municipal roads in Ontario unless a local bylaw stated otherwise.

In practice this means ORV have been legal in St. Clair since Jan. 1, since no bylaw was passed before then. A draft bylaw finally came before council Monday which would have largely permitted ORV use, with bans present only in downtown areas along the St. Clair Parkway, certain high volume streets, and in parks, campgrounds, and the golf course.

But like previous debates, opinion split sharply among the six councillors.

Councillor Bill Myers has been a big proponent of ORV use, and says most users are responsible operators. “While there are some that cause trouble, most I see are good people. I think it’s time that we work on some sort of structure for their use.”

“I realize this bylaw may not be perfect and it may be a work in progress, but I think we need to start somewhere and I think now is the time,” Myers says. "I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt and try and make some kind of bylaw work."

But the question of enforcement remained a major sticking point. “As far as I’m concerned it’s totally unenforceable,” says Deputy Mayor Steve Miller. “If the OPP can’t handle these people and stop them, then what are we going to do?”

OPP have said they cannot charge ORV users for violating a municipal bylaw. Officers would only pursue the vehicles if they were violating the Highway Traffic Act, but said they may pass along a rider's information to bylaw enforcement if they make a stop.

Miller reiterated an earlier position that, aside from work purposes, he doesn’t see a place for ORV on the roads. “They’re called off-road vehicles for a reason, and they shouldn’t be on the streets period.”

Councillor Rose Atkins was concerned with ORV use along the side of the parkway. “When I look at the thought of being on the St. Clair Parkway, I can’t help but think we spent millions of dollars for the last 15-20 years creating and promoting a trail system for cyclists and walkers,” she says. “The thought of adding motorized vehicles to that just doesn’t sit well with me.”

ORV are generally not allowed on trails, but along certain stretches of the parkway this would be unavoidable.

Councillor Tracy Kingston says the process has dragged on long enough and it was time to get something done. “We can go around in circles with this for 100 years. I think we need to pass it as it is,” she says. “If we need to make changes afterwards… then so be it. We’ve got to start somewhere.”

A vote on the bylaw left the matter gridlocked: Myers, Kingston and Jim DeGurse voted for ORV legalization while Miller, Atkins and Pat Brown voted against it. Mayor Steve Arnold quickly cast his deciding vote on the ‘no’ side.

“I agree with the deputy mayor, the OPP couldn’t enforce it, how the flip are we going to enforce it? All it does is shift the complaints from where they should be – at the provincial level – to the municipal level. And I don’t think that’s fair to us,” says Arnold.

“I don’t believe it’s fair to put a bylaw in place, and then expect our clerk or our part time bylaw enforcement officer to try and enforce this thing,” says the mayor.

Arnold also says he’s concerned about the elevated fine of $1,000 for violations (any municipal fine more than $500 needs approval from the Attorney General) and that one of the banned roads was a large chunk of the Wilkesport Line. “How the heck do you get around Wilkesport?”

With the motion failed, Myers asked that a new bylaw legalizing ORV use be written that addresses the concerns of other councillors. The revised bylaw will return to council Mar. 1 for yet another debate.

In the meantime, ORV use remains fully legal on all St. Clair Township roads aside from Highway 40.

Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent