The Tomah City Council has taken another step toward allowing all-terrain vehicle use on city streets.
The council voted Tuesday to pursue an ordinance that would permit ATV operation on any city street in Tomah where it’s permitted by state law. It represents a shift from an earlier proposal that would designate certain city streets as ATV routes.
Council member Donna Evans said allowing ATVs on any city street would disperse the vehicles more evenly throughout the city and “make it much easier on law enforcement.” State law prohibits ATVs on any portion of state highway with a speed limit of over 35 miles per hour.
Evans said it was time to resolve the issue.
“I don’t see why we’re arguing about this,” Evans said. “There are strict laws and regulations. If they’re out there with these loud mufflers, they can get pulled over by the cops.”
Council members moved the issue forward after multiple ATV owners spoke in favor of ATV use during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. ATV owner Ryan Kelly said Tomah is one of the few communities that still bans ATVs on city streets.
“We’ve been all over the state. Where’s one of the only places we can’t get to? Tomah,” Kelly said.
ATV owner James Hayes denied that noise would be a problem.
“Why are you worrying about my four-wheeler? It’s quieter than my snowblower,” Hayes said.
Tomah Chamber of Commerce executive director Tina Thompson said ATVs are good for tourism.
“These people have spendable incomes and expensive ATVs,” Thompson said. “We’re proud of our community, and we want to share it.”
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Evans, who works at RIA Credit Union, said people take ATV loans for machines costing upward of $25,000.
Bob Kersten spoke out against the resolution. He said it’s a safety issue and that ATVs are designed as off-road vehicles. He said they aren’t meant to mix with city traffic.
Wayne Kling also raised safety issues and suggested that an ordinance be given a one-year trial run.
“I see quite a crowd in support of ATVs, and that seems to be the consensus,” Kling said. “My only concern is accidents may happen ... the city may be liable if accidents happen.”
City of Tomah police chief Mark Nicholson said he neither supports nor opposes the measure but said other communities that have allowed ATV use report few problems.
Council member Sue Holme, along with Shawn Zabinsky, voted against the resolution during the Committee of the Whole. Holme questioned the kind of people widespread ATV use would draw to Tomah and raised the specture of “the biker-gang mentality.”
Holme said she talked to a convenience store owner in another community two years ago who regretted liberalized ATV use.
“I asked how she liked this, and she goes, ‘I wish we never allowed it in our town,’” Holme said. “She said when (ATV riders) are in the store, local business stops. That’s something I don’t want to happen in Tomah.”
Mayor Mike Murray challenged opponents to distinguish ATV use from any other vehicle.
“Think about what your objections might be to an ATV or UTV and then ask yourself are those same things applicable to a car, truck, horse-driven carriage, a bicycle, motorcycle.”
Thompson said ATV use in the city was given a test when 60 ATVs were allowed to ride into the city for the July 4 parade. She said no problems were reported.
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at email@example.com.