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County sets public hearing to discuss ATV use on roadways

With more ATVs than snowmobiles on Minnesota trails these days, more than a few folks will likely have something to say about a proposed policy regarding their use in Carlton County.

At the regular session of the Carlton County Board on Tuesday, commissioners set a public hearing for July 24 to consider a new ATV ordinance that would allow the operation of Class 1 (50 inches wide or less) ATVs on county state aid highways and unorganized township roads. Land Commissioner Greg Bernu explained the new ordinance would open up the shoulders of such roadways to ATV use in areas where they were previously prohibited.

"ATVs can currently go on the backslopes of the ditches," said Bernu, "but with all of the rough terrain and wetlands in the county, some of them are impassable. The resulting erosion also makes them expensive to maintain as well. Many riders are already going on the shoulders as it is, and this [ordinance] would help keep those people who want to ride there legal."

The proposed ordinance would not apply to cities and unorganized townships in the county, who are required to pass separate ordinances to allow such activity. Bernu said both the cities of Cloquet and Moose Lake have already passed such ordinances. He added that neighboring St. Louis and Pine counties have as well. He stated he has checked with both the sheriff and conservation officers regarding the proposal, and neither have had significant objections to it.

Bernu said the inherent understanding under such an ordinance is that ATV riders should use the designated roadways as the most direct route to their destinations and not as an opportunity for "joy riding" and they should be utilized primarily as a means to connect to trailways already in place.

Commissioner Gary Peterson pointed out that state law already permits the operation of Class 2 ATVs (50-65 inches wide with a side-by-side passenger configuration) on the shoulder or extreme right side of county roads, unless otherwise prohibited by local governments.

The proposed ordinance also contains regulations for making left-hand turns with ATVs while on public roadways, speed restrictions, riding abreast of another ATV and other points regarding operation.

County Treasurer/Auditor Paul Gassert said he has already received some comments on the proposed ordinance so he expects a significant turnout at the July 24 hearing. The hearing will take place in the county board meeting room of the County Transportation Building on Old Highway 61 in Carlton during the Board's 4 p.m. meeting.

In other matters Tuesday, commissioners took the following actions:

• Commissioners gave final approval for the hiring of an additional probation officer to service cases in Carlton County. The county is currently served by eight probation officers through Arrowhead Regional Corrections, one of whom is assigned strictly to drug cases and another to assist in transitioning inmates out of jail. And yet, according to the Carlton County Probation Supervisor Brian Stevenson, the county is "seriously understaffed."

"I'm certain the new jail study due out in July will speak to this as well," said Stevenson. "This additional agent will help alleviate the high case load sizes we're seeing right now. We currently average 120 clients per felony agent, and 70-90 are recommended."

The matter was discussed at the end of 2016 and preliminary approval was given by the Board to budget some $80,000 to fund the new position. Commissioner Tom Proulx cast the lone dissenting vote on the matter, stating he hadn't seen any information about a job description or what the additional agent would be doing. He added that he thinks it's unwise to make such a move until the findings of the jail study are released.

• The Board unanimously endorsed a request from the Fond du Lac Band to transfer jurisdiction and right-of-way for the bridge on Reservation Road from the city of Cloquet to the Band. County Engineer JinYeene Neumann explained that when the bridge was washed out by the 2012 flood, Fond du Lac paid for the bridge's reconstruction and has since requested jurisdiction over the bridge. The Band will now be responsible for signage, road surface improvements and general maintenance of the bridge.

• Final approval was given to acquire CivicPlus Software to update the county's web page, a move that has been under consideration for several months. The new software is designed to make the website more "user-friendly" for county departments and increase community engagement as well.

"This should result not only in an improved means of communication to the public but a better means of telling each department's story as well," said Commissioner Peterson.

• Commissioners approved a conditional use permit for Nathan Graftaas to operate a home-based lawn and garden equipment sales business on his property at 1493 County Road 5 in Carlton, with eight conditions attached governing such things as hours of operation, required screening and accessory structures.

• Approval of a conditional use permit was also granted to Brent Belich to operate a home-based garage door business on his property in Twin Lakes Township. Ten conditions were attached to the permit, including restrictions on such things as traffic and wear and tear on Hay Lake Road, the idling of semi trucks while unloading and privacy fencing.

• Several long-time county employees were recognized for their service, including Arnold Lofgren, Transportation Department, 20 years; Duane Brownie, Veterans Service Office, 20 years; Fredrick Petite, Sheriff's Office, 20 years; and Kelly Church, Public Health and Human Services, 10 years.

• The Aug. 8 meeting of the Carlton County Board will be moved to the Tamarack Room of the Community Services Building in Cloquet due to the primary election, since voting is set to take place in the Board's regular meeting room in the County Transportation Building.