RMWB pursuing pilot program allowing limited road use for OHVs in Abasand

Advocates said the program should let people ride OHVs directly from homes to trails. People would not be allowed to use them to shop, run errands or other detours.

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The municipality is designing a pilot program to let off-highway vehicles reach trails in Abasand by using nearby public roads or other direct routes. Administration has been directed to present a program to council by the end of March 2024.

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The plan was proposed by Mayor Sandy Bowman at Tuesday’s public meeting and passed unanimously by council. Bowman said Abasand is a prime location for a pilot project based on his own conversations with people in the neighbourhood. He cited the neighbourhood’s proximity to trails, heavy OHV use in the area and its location at the edge of the boreal forest.

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“The bylaw would be there for the community to lose and for them to lose. If they all follow the rules, the bylaw will stay and the bylaw will work to benefit the community. If it’s abused, then they lose that bylaw and we can stop the conversation,” said Bowman. “We have 14-year-old kids that can drive mopeds. Telling me that a 35-year-old adult with a clean driving record for 20 years is less safe than a 14-year-old kid driving a moped? I beg to differ.”

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The plan was endorsed by Jason Mills and John Feener, representatives for the Wood Buffalo Recreational Riders’ Association. The two men said the program should require people to ride their OHVs directly from their homes to trails, “from Point A to Point B.” People would not be allowed to use them to shop, run errands or other detours.

Feener added people using OHVs on fire breaks and walking trails is a concern to his organization. Allowing people to use roads would get people off trails and improve safety. Proper enforcement and communication is needed to make sure people follow the rules and are respectful of others.

“No one’s looking to use their side-by-side as a vehicle to take the family down Thickwood or down Confederation or down Franklin Avenue for a Sunday drive. That’s not the intent behind it. We’re just trying to get out of the city,” he said.

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“It’s an hour process to load the machine up, strap it down on a trailer, tow it to lay down that’s—essentially for some—right across the street and then go for a ride then come back and load back up and come back home.”

Feener argued Fort McMurray should continue embracing its identity as a northern community in the boreal forest. He also mentioned other small communities that had similar programs. As example, he mentioned Athabasca, Chestermere, Cold Lake, Lethbridge and Parkland counties, and multiple communities in northern Ontario.

Mills said the organization has had a positive relationship with the municipality after council agreed in March to task a community-run OHV group to promote responsible OHV use, make bylaw suggestions and identify public lands where OHVs can be used legally.

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“It’s worth the try. There could be some tourism behind this, there could be some development behind this,” said Mills. “This could tie into something bigger than what we’re talking about right now. But start small and start fresh, and just be trailblazers in the community like you are and we’ll make some new trails.”

A member of the Wood Buffalo RCMP rides an off-highway vehicle through sections of downtown Fort McMurray that were flooded on Friday, May 1, 2020. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Councillors approve pilot program

Councillor Ken Ball said the presenters were “preaching to the choir” and grumbled about bringing his OHV to trails. Councillor Lance Bussieres had concerns about snowmobiles, but Feener and Mills said snowmobiles should not be included in the program.

Councillor Allan Grandison said he hears OHV riders on the road near his downtown home. But he also agreed safety is a priority. Grandison said he knows someone who was killed by a reckless OHV rider that was speeding at night. That accident did not happen on a road.

Grandison said the municipality’s plan should require safety features. Mills agreed and said these should include such as lights, proper tires, registration and insurance, and horns.

“Play it safe, everything’s good. If you don’t play it safe, there’s rules and regulations. Those people should be held accountable,” said Mills.

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