ESCANABA - Just over a week ago, four bills were introduced to the Michigan House that deal with significant All Terrain Vehicle regulation changes across the state.
House Bill 6159 will require ATV owners, now referred to as Off Highway Vehicles, to be registered every three years by the Michigan Secretary of State at $20 ($6.66 annually).
HB 6160 will take the annual ATV license fee, converting it to an OHV Trail Permit at a cost of $30.00.
HB6161will create an OHV Safety Training Academy.
HB 6162 will amend Public Act (PA) 240, requiring uniform road use criteria and definition of area uses.
Over a year ago, the former Michigan ATV Trails Advisory Committee projected problems with funding future projects if revenues were not adjusted to meet needs.
The ATV Committee was dissolved after Governor Granholm issued her 2009 Executive Order to combine the Michigan DNR and DEQ. The idea was to consolidate several recreational trail riding advisory groups to streamline them with the regionalization of the new MDNRE.
Work done by the ATV Advisory Committee indicated the formation of new designated trails and routes as well as the broad based "Rails-to-Trails" concept, converting railroad grades that had been abandoned and eased to the Michigan Department of Transportation for sharing, lay in jeopardy due to increased maintenance costs.
The numbers two years ago indicated over a million dollar annual spending deficit which was drawing down on the designated ATV fund balance. That trend will zero out the fund balance this year and unless adjustments are made, the MDNRE will find itself in yet another financial bind not far removed from what occurred in the Fish and Game Fund a few years back.
Don't be mistaken to think the revenue differential is because we are losing ATV users. The fact is ATV use is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreations in which Michiganders are participating. The problem, I believe, is costs have escalated beyond what revenue has provided.
It is also important to note distribution of funds has remained efficient and revenue from license sales goes mostly toward projects. The user clubs have provided volunteer man power to adopt specific designated trails and maintain the system with costs of materials only being reimbursed through the fund.
The annual ATV license fee structure has been in place for quite some time. Therefore the users groups have understood some adjustment would be forthcoming. With all four bills combined, the annual cost of registration/licensure would cost $36.66 annually. My concern is the new distribution of funds and the requirements for safety instructor training.
Two funds being created within the combined legislation earmark money for special uses but do not specifically state where the money will go and how much will be provided. The involvement of the Secretary of State for the three year registration is redundant because a Michigan Operators License is now required to buy the annual sticker and law enforcement can utilize the tag number to identify the name of whom it was issued.
A simple requirement only the owner can purchase and place the license on a machine would assure compliance. Plus, Michigan law already requires new machines to be titled, thus trace-back capabilities already exist through vehicle serial numbers.
The areas in the legislation having the most appeal are those that would set a more uniform criteria for road use.
It will also uniformly reduce the percentage of roads that can be eliminated by county road commissions and protect from arbitrary exclusion by some townships.
In writing an initial response to the Natural Resources Sub-Committee of the Michigan Legislature, I raised questions to some of the rationale behind the bills and suggested concern about the potential of making government bigger.
It was done by direction of the leadership of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen's Alliance and will also be a topic of discussion at the SORVA of Delta County meeting Monday at the MDNRE Pocket Park on the UP State Fairgrounds at 7:00.
Two legislative committee hearings will also take place this weekend; Saturday at Tupplo's in Bruce Crossing at 4 p.m., and Sunday at the Seney Twp. Hall at 3 p.m.
We know a lot of work had gone into these bills before being introduced for consideration. However, the fact they are now on such a fast track and the first public hearings regarding the issue have been set up after initial response from the UP is a concern.
The good news is we got their attention and lawmakers have promised to listen.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications and the Internet Saturday mornings.