In 2004, the question of whether Emery County should open its roads to off highway vehicles was raised. In response to that issue, the Public Lands Council formed an access subcommittee and studied the issue of OHVs on county roads.
Each class B road in the county system was scrutinized for the quality of the road, the amount of traffic, and its usefulness in allowing OHVs access to ingress and egress from the cities to the trails on the forest service and Bureau of Land Management lands. In all, the plan contains 1,051 roads, trails, and road segments that Emery County maintains. These roads and trails were designated as paved, unpaved or native roads. The access committee met throughout the year and came to a decision on every county road, with the exception of three roads.
This subcommittee's decisions and maps were then sent to the Emery County Commissioners for the final decision. Following a review by the commissioners, the plan still remained undecided due to the issue of the three roads in question. The commissioners formed a safety committee for further study into the matter of safety issues surrounding OHV use of county roads.
During their first meeting, safety committee members Sheriff Lamar Guymon, Public Lands Director Ray Petersen, Attorney David Blackwell, Orangeville Councilman Randall Stilson, Emery County Road Supervisor Rex Funk and Morris Sorensen, began by reviewing the findings of the access committee. The draft ordinance that the access committee had developed was read. The six section draft ordinance defines and designates roads, makes provisions for OHV use, makes exceptions for OHV use, considers OHV registration, required equipment, and penalties for violations of the ordinance.
Petersen stated that whatever ordinance is adopted, if indeed an ordinance is accepted, it must conform to existing state law. Current state statute reads: UC 41-22-10.1 Vehicles operated on public land. 1-Currently registered off highway vehicles may be operated on public land, trails, streets, or highways that are posted by sign or designated by map or description by the controlling federal, state, county, or city agency, as open to off highway vehicle use.
UC 41-22-10.4 Vehicles-Local Ordinances. 1-A municipality or county may adopt ordinances designating certain streets and highways as off highway vehicle routes for the specific purpose of allowing off highway vehicle operators to gain direct access to or from a private or public area open for off highway vehicle use. 2. These routes may not be along, across, or within the boundaries of an interstate freeway or limited access highway. 3. A person may not operate an off highway vehicle on any street or highway for any other purpose than to gain direct access to or from a private or public area open for off highway vehicle use.
The cities in Emery County must also conform to section two of the draft ordinance. This section deals with definition of an OHV and designation of Emery County roads. "Our purpose is to review each road with regards to safety. Our findings are recommendations to the county commissioners," said Petersen.
Sheriff Guymon stated that several of the cities in the county already have ordinances of their own and those ordinances are allowing OHV riders to use every road in the city. In the initial discussions of OHV use, the purpose of designation of roads was to allow ingress and egress to trails outside of the cities only.
Sorensen asked if the OHVs are required to have liability insurance in the event of an accident. The answer was no, but Sheriff Guymon stated that whoever is at fault is liable for the damages. If an OHV rider is at fault, that rider is responsible for the cost of the damage. Blackwell stated that some homeowner insurance may cover the cost, but that is up to each insurance company. Sheriff Guymon said, "The bottom line is that whoever is at fault in the accident, whether the vehicle has liability insurance or not, will be held responsible for the damages."
Another question was the age of the riders. According to Utah State Law, if a child 8-15 years of age has had the OHV training, that child can drive an OHV. In the event of an accident involving a child of that age group, the parents of the child will be held liable for the damages.
Sheriff Guymon questioned the circumstances surrounding the three roads that could not be agreed upon by the access subcommittee. Those roads were Bott Lane in Castle Dale, Canyon Road in Ferron, and the Buckhorn Draw Road in the San Rafael Swell. Petersen explained that the high impact on those roads of full sized vehicles made it impossible for the access subcommittee to come to an agreement. Some members of the access subcommittee felt that the high number of cars and trucks on those roads made the conditions very unsafe. As a result, the committee was unable to reach a decision concerning those three roads.
Petersen added, "Day in and day out, Bott Lane is the busiest county road with the highest vehicle count. Also, Bott Lane has a pedestrian walking lane and if OHVs are added to that mix, there is just not enough room." The consensus was that with Castle Dale's location, surrounded by state highways, there was no way to allow ingress and egress for Castle Dale to state lands.
Another aspect of OHV use on county roads that the safety committee discussed was the hours that OHVs would be able to use the roads. Some committee members felt that OHV use should be restricted to daytime use only. Others felt that the OHVs are equipped with lights and their use should be allowed during nighttime hours.
Distances to recreation areas was then discussed. It was stated that the prime riding areas are a number of miles from the towns. One comment was that it would be more efficient to trailer OHVs to riding areas than to ride them from the towns. Another question raised concerned enforcement of an ordinance, if one is accepted. Why designate roads when people are using them now, and will that change if roads are designated? What about enforcement?
Sheriff Guymon said, "These are a few of the things that we will have to look at through this process. If the users do not take responsibility to obey the rules, they are going to lose the use. People need to use the resource responsibly and comply with the rules or the entire system will be closed."
Each member of the safety committee agreed to study the list and maps and visit the roads. At their next meeting, which will be held on Feb. 1, they will discuss and come to decisions on each road. Following their decisions on the OHV travel plan for the county roads, a public hearing will be held.