Fairness of new city task force questioned; use of off-road vehicles examined
Some community members are speaking out against Kawartha Lakes City Council’s taskforce on off-road vehicles since all four citizen appointees have clear ties to the outdoor pastime.
The four community members selected to assist the task force include current president of the Kawartha ATV Association Caroline Richards, past president of the Kawartha ATV Association Steve Lane, ATV enthusiast and Trent Hills fire chief Don Mitchell and Kawartha Lakes Police Service constable Jason Ramsay. At the first meeting of the task force in early February, Richards was elected the vice-chair of the group.
Bill Steffler, Peter Petrosoniak and Heather Stauble have serious concerns about the volunteer makeup and balance of opinion present on the city-created, off-road vehicle task force which began meeting Feb. 12. Councillor Pat Dunn, chair of the task force, discounts these concerns, calling the volunteers as currently constituted “a blue ribbon committee made up of people trying to find solutions.”
Last October, Kawartha Lakes decided to strike a task force to review the current legislation and restrictions in place limiting off-road vehicle usage south of the Glenarm Road. The goal of the task force, made up of three councillors and four people chosen from the community, is to provide advice and recommendations to council on the use of ORVs on municipal roads and to recommend changes if necessary, to the existing municipal bylaw that currently limits ORV usage of municipal roads in much of the city.
The disagreement about the makeup of the task force volunteers hinges on a crucial statement in the terms of reference for the task force written by city Chief Administrative Officer Ron Taylor. The excerpt from the terms of reference reads, “Consideration will be given by the council representatives to select a broad range of public interests to ensure rounded and fulsome discussion on the activities.”
Steffler, Petrosoniak and Stauble all share a common concern that the community members on this task force do not represent a “broad range of interests” and are too closely linked with the ORV community. The four community members chosen were selected by councillors Kathleen Seymour-Fagan, Tracy Richardson and Dunn who represent the city on the task force. Twenty-one people initially applied for the community positions and from that nine were interviewed.
When asked about the makeup of the volunteer members, Dunn said, “We were looking for people with open minds. We are trying to find solutions to this issue. If council had wanted the status quo (that has existed since 2007) they wouldn’t have created the task force. The council wants change. We are looking for solutions. There will be lots of opportunity to complain.”
Dunn was asked by the Advocate about not selecting long time Green Trails Alliance member Peter Petrosoniak who did make it to the face to face interview section of the selection process. Dunn said, “Speaking for myself, I didn’t see value in having a committee member who would say “no” to everything proposed. Let the “no” people come forward at council when this is debated.”
When asked to comment on the specific statement in the terms of reference regarding “a broad range of public interests” Dunn stated, “The terms of reference is vague and open to interpretation. No change (regarding ORVs and municipal roads) is not an option. I saw that statement to mean people from a broad geographic representation who represent the whole city. Those who oppose this are in my opinion very Lindsay-centric. Not everyone is going to be happy when we are done.”
“Council approved the task force members,” Dunn said in a lengthy telephone interview. “The task force will present council with options in late March, and there will be opportunity with the task force in March and likely council in April for those who oppose the recommendations to have their say. I will never understand the attitude that if you don’t like something the consequences are others can’t have it. I don’t see the world that way.”
Petrosoniak is baffled that a spokesperson for “active (non-motorized) transportation” was not included on the ORV task force. “I guess they didn’t want me to upset the apple cart,” he said.
“There is no great need for these bylaw changes to be discussed now. With coronavirus there will be no face-to-face deputations. This task force is set up to rush a report through real quick. Where is input from walkers, hikers, bicyclist and horseback riders whose enjoyment will be interfered with by these motorized vehicles? Councillor Dunn is too vehicle-centric in my opinion,” Petrosoniak said.
Steffler, president of the Green Trails Alliance group, builds on what Petrosoniak said. “There is no balance on this task force, or apparent desire for public input. In 2012 the same bylaw changes were broached but at that time there was significant public outcry against the road use of ORVs and the opening up of Lindsay to ORV traffic. The proposition was defeated because many environmentally-minded people came together with people concerned about trespassing.”
Stauble, a two-term former councillor from the old Manvers Township, calls the task force “a pretense of consultation” and a reaction to “the heavy and steady lobbying of the KATV both locally and at the provincial level.”
“They have lobbied council for a long time,” Stauble said. “We dealt with this twice while I was there (2010-2018). This time it looks like folks are just going through the motions. I can’t believe that issues of insurance, safety, liability for the city and a real look at the risk management involved are not front and centre for this task force. These ORVs are going to be on the roads with scooters, pedestrians, cyclists, gravel trucks and farm vehicles. Peak ORV volume will be on weekends when the ORVs have to share the roads with cottage traffic.”
“These vehicles should not be on municipal roads. There are too many accidents. They are bad for the environment. Even their manufacturers recommend them for off-road use only. The city will end up paying in joint liability cases because when someone is looking to sue, they know the city will have the deepest pockets, and the ability to pay.”
The next ORV task force meeting will be held Feb. 25 and will be broadcast on the Kawartha Lakes YouTube channel.