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New county panel to look at ATV trails

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Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

A couple of months after a Becker County committee charged with mapping out a 70-mile trail for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and dirt bikes got bogged down in controversy, the Becker County Board has opted to take a new approach.

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The board voted Tuesday in favor of a proposal by Natural Resources Management administrator Mark "Chip" Lohmeier to establish a new Comprehensive Off-Highway Vehicle Policy Committee.

Lohmeier's proposal for the makeup of the new committee included a membership that was as balanced as possible, with representatives from various organizations and interests including township boards (four members), traditional forest users (two), ATV clubs, (two), resort owners (two), White Earth Reservation (one), Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge (one), Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (one), Park Board (one) and law enforcement (one).

The original proposal also included the addition of two area landowners, but the commissioners felt that with such a large membership already, the interests of the landowners would most likely be served by the township board representatives as well.

This new committee would be charged with developing and recommending to the county board a comprehensive policy for the management of off-highway vehicles -- including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-highway motorcycles (OHMs), off-road vehicles (ORVs, also known as 4x4 trucks) and highway licensed vehicles -- on county-managed lands.

However, even at 15 members, the board pondered whether it would be unable to reach consensus on the various areas the new OHV policy was intended to address: areas of permitted (OHV) use, areas of restricted use, temporary forest closures, unauthorized trail construction, as well as penalties and fines for policy violations.

"I'm having a little bit of a problem with this committee," said Commissioner Barry Nelson. "I'm not sure we're ready for it."

Nelson noted that it was not necessary to form a new committee for this purpose -- the policy could simply be set by board action.

"But how can we make a decision (without committee input)?" Commissioner Larry Knudson pointed out.

The biggest concern with establishing this new committee, Commissioner Karen Mulari noted, is that "we need a membership of people that are willing to come to some sort of compromise."

With such representation, the committee could be "very good," but without it, "It's a worthless committee," Mulari added.

Then she and Commissioner Harry Salminen came up with the idea of hiring a facilitator to work with the new committee and lend an unbiased ear to the discussion.

"I think it might be beneficial to have an unbiased facilitator (present) at these meetings," said Mulari. "We're going to have to come to a compromise... this (OHV use) issue is not going away."

"If we don't have a compromise, it's a waste of time," Salminen added.

County Administrator Brian Berg had earlier made the suggestion of holding public meetings to seek input on a new OHV policy, rather than establishing a committee for the purpose.

But Mulari and Nelson both noted that the input from such hearings is frequently not balanced on both sides of the proposal.

"It's not a bad idea to have a committee, but they have to come to some sort of compromise to make this work out," Mulari stated.

"It's a huge committee, but its (membership is) a fair representation," Commissioner John Bellefeuille said. "I think we have to start someplace."

The motion passed by the board to establish the new committee also contained a provision for seeking the services of a facilitator, and another to review the committee's performance at intervals to determine whether it's making significant progress on the new policy, or not.

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