Council approves starting OHV pilot program for Abasand roads

If council approves a bylaw in May, people in Abasand can use public roads to drive side-by-sides, all-terrain vehicles, four-wheelers and dirt bikes to trails. Snowmobiles and three-wheelers are not included in the plan.

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Council has unanimously approved starting a pilot program that lets people in Abasand drive their off-highway vehicles from their homes to nearby trails. The program will start sometime in June and last for two years, so long as council approves a bylaw that will be presented in May.

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Snowmobiles and three-wheelers are not included in the plan, but people can use public roads to drive their side-by-sides, all-terrain vehicles, four-wheelers and dirt bikes to the trails.

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Keith Smith, the RMWB’s director of public works, told council at their Tuesday meeting that the program that balances preserving public infrastructure, safety and the community’s love for the outdoors. Smith said the program is modeled on similar programs in other communities.

“Chestermere said they were quite successful, Corner Brook did as well. Yellowhead County was only gravel roads so it didn’t really compare to what we’re doing, but it was quite successful as well. It was well received by the community, well received by the riders,” said Smith.

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People cannot drive through greenspaces, fire breaks or on sidewalks. On-street parking is limited. People can stop at the staging area and gas station, but cannot use their OHVs to run errands or drive on roads outside of Abasand.

The program will require OHVs to be licensed and operated by people with a Class 5 license. Alberta’s child safety seat laws must be followed. Passengers will be limited to the manufacturers’ specifications. Wood Buffalo RCMP and bylaw service patrols will keep a watch for compliance.

“A lot of the people that are using this are already the people in Abasand that are doing this. They’ll just be doing it legally now as opposed to illegally,” said Councillor Allan Grandison.

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The provincial building and Jubilee Centre viewed from the corner of Main Street and Franklin Avenue in Fort McMurray Alta. on Saturday January 30, 2016. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network Photo by Vince Mcdermott /Vince Mcdermott/Today Staff

Councillor Funky Banjoko had noise concerns. She also said Abasand residents have other concerns for their neighbourhood, and wondered how much of a priority the pilot program was for residents.

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Smith said Abasand is a good place to test the pilot program because it is geographically isolated, has a clear boundaries, popular trails and a new staging area for OHVs. Administration said rural hamlets with OHV bylaws, such as Fort Chipewyan and Saprae Creek, have time restrictions on when they can be used.

Grandison and Councillor Ken Ball argued that trucks and other vehicles are louder than most modern OHVs. CAO Henry Hunter said the RMWB has noise bylaws that would be enforced, and the pilot program can be adjusted if there are any complaints.

“We don’t stop someone in Abasand getting on their Harley at 4 a.m. from going downtown,” said Grandison. “So we’re gonna say ‘you can drive your Harley and you can drive your diesel truck, but you can’t drive your ATV that’s three times more quiet?’ That doesn’t make any sense to me. We’re creating problems where none exist.”

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Jonathan Feener and Jason Mills of the Wood Buffalo Recreational Riders’ Association, which includes 5,000 members, said the organization supports the pilot program. Any feedback the organization gave came from those members, said Feener.

Mills’ lone criticism was the hours are inconvenient for people who ride in early or late hours. Councillor Kendrick Cardinal said he hopes to change those hours.

Public feedback on the program can be made at the RMWB’s website.

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