A pilot project for ORVs on rural roads will not happen

Filed under: Headline,IN THE NEWS |

by Sylene Argent

A majority vote during Monday evening’s Essex Council meeting put an end to the Town looking into ORV usage on municipal roadways.

Council received Economic Development Officer Nelson Silveira’s report, and would eventually concur with the recommendation to not proceed with a pilot project that would have permitted off road vehicle usage on some municipally operated roadways, namely ones that were in rural areas.

In November, the Town held open houses to solicit public feedback on the issue. Further, a focus group was created in April to look into the matter. The report notes it was comprised of reps of the Essex County Federation of Agriculture, avid ORV enthusiasts, business owners, rural and urban residents, and reps of Windsor Regional Hospital and the Windsor Essex County Health Unit.

“In our opinion, this project has flaws,” Silveira said, noting there were potential safety and road issues.

He said to move forward with the project, there had to be a good balance between safety and liability and economic benefits, but safety concerns outweighed potential benefits.

At open houses held in McGregor, Essex Centre, and Harrow, the report notes the majority of participants were advocates for expanded ORV use.

In the report, the struggle to find a potential ORV route was highlighted. It states there is a prohibition against ORV travel on County of Essex roadways, except for direct crossovers. The proposed route could not intentionally direct riders to travel on County roads or lead them to dead ends.

Further, during the meeting, Silveira noted that many of Essex’s rural roads are narrow, which creates a problem, as to his research the Ontario Highway Traffic Act Regulation 316/03 states ORVS are to only be used on shoulders. Councillor Randy Voakes disagreed that ORVs could only be used on the shoulder of the road.

The report continues, that allowing ORVs to use municipal roadways will have a certain degree of additional risk and could expose the Town to additional liability. Further, Town Clerk Robert Auger said he contacted the Town’s insurance company, whose rep stated ORVs are not designed to be on roadways, and that most ORV users would likely only have $200,000, third-person liability coverage. This could cause problems for the Town, liability-wise, if there was ever an accident.

The report continues that if the Town passed a bylaw authorizing ORV use, it will likely be held by the law to a higher level of accountability in ensuring that the standards are adhered to, as it relates to ORV use on its roadways. It continues that under the Negligence Act and pursuant to the principle of joint and several liability, a municipality needs to only be found one-percent liable in order to be potentially subject to having to pay a plaintiff’s entire judgment.

“According to the Windsor Regional Hospital, injury statistics maintained by the Windsor Essex County Health Unit for all municipalities in Essex County show that The Town of Essex residents have the highest rate of emergency room visits. From 2011-2015, Essex had 105.1 visits per 100,000 people compared to the municipal average of 56 visits per 100,000,” the report continues.

Councillor Bill Caixeiro suggested that perhaps area municipalities should discuss opening an ORV park where communities connect, but it was pointed out, and further mentioned in the report, there is an ORV park in Amherstburg. The Essex County ORV Club maintains the trails. Users have to be members of the club so if there is ever injury or a case of liability, they are covered by insurance provided by the provincial ORV club association, the Ontario Federation of ATV Clubs (OFATV).

In the past, there had been discussion of using a potential pilot project for ORV usage on certain municipal roadways to create opportunity for tourism, however, it states in the report there would be limited opportunities from an economic development or tourism perspective, as it would not allow for the travel of residents and visitors to and from the town.

Councillor Larry Snively did not agree with the report. He said he understands there could be accidents, but “We have got to stop saying ‘no.’ We could have easily mapped out a safe route.”

Off road use, Snively continued, is also dangerous as there are trees and culverts. He added that some farmers are frustrated with crop damage when ORVs are driven across their fields. He later noted he did not realize ORVs could only be used on the shoulder of a road and said he would renege on his position a bit.

Councillor Voakes said he appreciated the report, but didn’t support its logic. He did not understand why the Town would not want to move forward with a pilot project. Council was “saying no to a great opportunity to enhance the municipality,” he said.

The municipality could set the criteria and requirements for usage, he added.

Voakes put a motion forward that would have the Town of Essex implement an ATV pilot project from July 1-December 31 of this year. Caixeiro seconded the motion. Caixeiro and Voakes were the only two to support the motion in a recorded vote. Councillor Steven Bjorkman was not at the meeting.

Councillor Sherry Bondy said she would not support the pilot project based on the reasons outlined in the report. She stated she felt some Council members did not read the report before the meeting.

A little argument broke out between Essex Mayor Ron McDermott and Voakes nearing the end of the discussion on this topic. Voakes had said Council could put the requirements in place to get ATVs on the road, and said he heard what he calls “rhetoric” and the spewing of fallacies of insurance. He also agreed with Bondy that some Councillors did not read the report. The Mayor interrupted to ask Voakes to get back to the motion, and Voakes insisted he was.

McDermott said Voakes was questioning the insurance and, “Telling him he is nuts. I don’t know who you are.”

Voakes insisted that comment be removed from the record as he did not call anyone “nuts.”

McDermott said that was not the wording Voakes used.

Essex Council Notes for June 5 will continue in the June 15 edition of the EFP.