The topic of ATV usage on city-owned streets created a full house at City Hall during the North Branch City Council meeting on April 12.

“Over the past couple months, the Parks, Trails and Open Spaces (PTOS) Commission has been discussing the usage of ATVs within the city. Current state law requires that cities adopt an ordinance and permitting process to allow ATVs to legally ride on city-owned streets. Without that ordinance in place, ATVs can only legally ride on roads, roadways allowed by DNR statutes,” GIS planning specialist Nate Sondrol said.

County roads and trunk highways are the only roads that people can currently ride on legally. There are minor restrictions based on how old you are and the class of the ATV under DNR statute. Currently, the city does not have an ordinance in place.

“We were recently made aware of a subdivision that Nate had talked about, in the DNR statute, that said that a county, city or town acting through its governing body, made by an ordinance, (can) allow a person to operate on a public road or street under jurisdiction,” Police Chief Dan Meyer said. “Legally in order to ride on a city street we have to have an ordinance to allow it and it has to be by permit and part of the permitting process is you have to have insurance on it.”

City staff brought the agenda item to the council’s attention to provide direction moving forward on whether to draft an ordinance. After a great deal of conversation, the council voted unanimously to move forward and create an ATV ordinance for the city of North Branch.

Council Member Amanda Darwin made a statement after mentioning she spent a great deal of time receiving emails, phone calls and having many conversations on the topic, touching base on dirt bikes as well.

“I would like to start to point out with a point of clarity: There’s nowhere in any ATV ordinance that makes a dirt bike a legal vehicle to operate on any city street,” Darwin said.

Darwin said it’s important to implement an ordinance in the city or it is up to the state statute, making the ATV usage unlawful on city streets. She also believes, in her opinion, that allowing a ban is reckless and cannot change other’s behavior.

“Those who don’t operate lawfully will certainly not change their behavior with or without an ordinance. Naughty people stay naughty,” Darwin said.

Council Member Kelly Neider touched on a different side of the topic but also in favor of an ordinance.

“I apologize for neighbors that have to deal with children who are allowed to treat their neighbors less than that they are precious,” Neider said. “I personally welcome putting in an ordinance that makes this licensed and all that; let’s go for that. Use these vehicles safely.”

Council Member Patrick Meacham read through ATV ordinances from other cities to consider different ideas to implement including a clean and possibly, one page description.

“The cities of Red Wing, Becker and Willmar all had very nice kind of one page info sheets on ‘here’s the highlights, here’s the bullet points of our ordinances. If you want to ride legally on city streets, here’s what you need to do’ instead of having to go through pages, so I did appreciate that,” Meacham said.

A few things Meacham mentioned he would like to see in the city ordinance included an age limit, a requirement to insure and get a permit for the ATV, only allowing use during certain hours of the day, having consequences for those that don’t abide, speed limits and what the vehicle should have if driving on city streets. Meacham suggested reflector or mirror requirements for ATVs on city streets.

“If these vehicles are permitted to drive on our city streets, I sure as heck want them to know if I’m behind them,” Meacham said.

Mayor Jim Swenson mentioned that other cities require a permit sticker to be put somewhere specific on the ATV, making it clear and visible to law enforcement and others.

As many points were made by council on the different things that would come with an ordinance for the city, council members also mentioned that no matter how much is enforced, there are people that will refuse to abide by the law.

“Chief, there’s people that drive on the city streets of North Branch that might be over the legal limit for alcohol that you guys don’t catch, right? That doesn’t mean we don’t have those rules,” Meacham said. “But I can bet that 90% or more of the individuals driving over .08 know that, that’s probably going to be $10,000 out of their pocket and they’re not going to drive for six months. They know that and they know the consequences.”

Residents have expressed concerns with children riding ATVs as well as dirt bikes around neighborhoods and some of council explained how they would want to move forward.

“If we can add something to the ordinance implementing a fine for parents who allow their underage children to put other people at risk for the health, their welfare, and potential death, if you’re at work and your 14-year-old decides to take the mini bike out, well, take the keys to work with you,” Neider said. “Hit it where it counts and if we can implement something like that to relieve the pressure and stress that those in Casselberry are experiencing, I say do it.”

Darwin also mentioned she has helped four children on the school side village property, who experienced minor accidents and were pinned under their ATVs.

“No parent in sight and one time a drunk parent was involved,” Darwin said.

Election district boundary notice

The congressional, legislative and county commissioner district boundaries for Chisago County have been reestablished for 2022 and future elections.

North Branch City Council made a new map recommendation for Chisago County commissioners to consider for the 2022 redistricting. On April 13, Chisago County commissioners adopted the map recommended by the city of North Branch.

The biggest change seen in the map is that North Branch will no longer be split into three separate county commissioner districts. They are all now part of Chisago County Commissioner District No. 1.

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