Government transparency carried a vote Tuesday to hold a second public hearing on the proposed county ATV ordinance.
St. Louis County commissioners unanimously approved the hearing, which will take place May 10 in Duluth, at the request of the Duluth City Council. The draft ordinance would allow ATVs on all county roads, and the city wanted another chance for comment, despite three public input meetings being held in January in Midway Township, Virginia and Ely. The ordinance is also in the midst of a 45-day comment period leading up to a final public hearing at the board’s regular meeting May 24 in Hibbing, where it could give final approval.
The Duluth City Council approved a resolution asking for the second hearing, and in speaking with Councilor Noah Hobbs, Commissioner Patrick Boyle of Duluth said part of the problem the city faced was not being able answer questions from constituents about specific parts of the ordinance.
But that didn’t sit well with the entire board. Commissioner Tom Rukavina of Pike Township expressed frustration with the city, saying Midway Township was a drivable distance for councilors, and their request for a hearing was the council putting in writing that “they didn’t do their homework” on the ordinance.
“Duluth isn’t the center of the universe,” Rukavina said. “It irks me we have to do a special meeting.”
He argued that public officials from all over the county appeared at all three meetings, some driving more than an hour each time to attend.
As passed, the May 10 meeting will technically be the start of the May 24 hearing, said County Administrator Kevin Gray. A public hearing will open May 10 in Duluth and the board will be continue it in Hibbing for the final review and decision.
Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township moved for the meeting’s approval, citing among other things, a sign of transparency from the board.
Nelson said an additional meeting wouldn’t change the timeline of the ordinance or alter commissioners’ voting at this stage.
Boyle and other commissioners agreed.
“It really isn’t going to be impactful on my decision-making process,” Nelson said. “If Cook or Gilbert or Leonidas asked for a meeting, I think I’d come to this board in support.”
In covering some of Duluth’s concerns, Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth said he was surprised of the scope the ordinance ended up taking.
While he supports the basic idea of getting ATVs out of the ditches and onto the roadways, he didn’t think it would cover all county roads and come without speed limit and other safety regulations.
The city of Duluth currently bans ATVs on all streets within the city, and questions arose since the draft ordinance release about whether or not the county would contradict city law. St. Louis County has remained adamant that it wants to maintain jurisdiction on its roads, and will work with cities’ concerns, but keep final say on the rule.
Safety concerns raised by Jewell and around Duluth centered on speed limits for riders, but the county maintains it is following state statute for ATV riders so it remains enforceable by other agencies.
But Jewell also felt there were comments yet unheard by the board and Public Works Department. Gray said the open comment period has yielded more negative comments than what was previously submitted, and Jewell added that the county will still see a lot of support May 10.
“None of the negative feedback I’ve gotten, on occasion, showed up,” Jewell said. “We needed to see what other views were out there. There’s 86,000 people in the city of Duluth, and I bet you a big chunk of them drive four-wheelers. They want this.”