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Off-road to go on-road?

“They didn’t want the apple, but do they want the orange?” asked Councilmember Sherri Jorgensen. “We’re still talking about fruit here.”

The discussion was not actually about fruit, but the comparison was apt as the council considered a request by Councilmember Matt Fox to direct city staff to explore options for allowing limited use of city streets for off-highway vehicles.

“We live in an outdoor recreation area. Boaters, off-roaders, motorcycles and everything in between,” Fox said in introducing the discussion. “There are many small towns like us that co-exist with off-highway vehicles on the road with regular traffic. I think we can do the same, with regulations.”

Jorgensen’s comment was in reference to a ballot question that was defeated in 2019. However, that advisory-only question was very wide open, asking only, “Do you support the operation of Off Highway Vehicles (OHV) on city streets pursuant to NRS 490.100?”

Walton directly addressed that open-ended aspect of the 2019 question.

“The ballot question, to my recollection was so vague that I couldn’t wrap my head around what it would be,” he said. “So, in order to avoid some type of result that would be undesirable, I’ll just vote ‘no.’ In my circle that was the consensus. There was no mechanism to ensure this would not be like ‘mosquitoes at a picnic’ where OHVs are all over our city streets.”

Fox said that the people asking for the ability to use city streets want just two things. “All we would really be doing is giving access to what people are already doing,” he said. “Going from their house to the desert and to the gas station is all that is being requested from the community.”

The question was originally on the agenda for the April 9 meeting, which was when three council members (Walton, Jorgensen and Cokie Booth) were all participating via telephone due to illness and the question was tabled. But before the postponement, a number of people called in or wrote in or addressed council during the meeting expressing their opposition saying, “We already had a vote about this.”

But two weeks later, the other side of the public made sure they had their say. Public comment for items on the agenda lasted more than a half an hour but this time, the tally was about 10-1 in favor of the idea.

Fox, who along with Booth and Jorgensen, said he was an off-highway vehicle enthusiast and claimed that OHV’s are safer than most cars and trucks.

“They have roll cages and five-point harnesses or at least seat belts. They are no louder than any car, truck or motorcycle. And with certain stipulations in place, I think this would be a great idea for our town,” he said.

The stipulations Fox put forward included: OHVs would have to be registered, operated by a licensed driver, and passengers under 16 must wear helmets.

“We already allow electric golf carts on the road. So I don’t see any difference to OHVs being allowed on the road except that OHVs are actually safe.”

State law allows OHVs on some roads but under strict limits. City Attorney Brittany Walker told the council that, under state law, OHVs are never allowed on a state highway unless it is just to cross over. They are only allowed on city or county roads in order to reach a trail and are limited to two miles on a public road.

“It would not be legal for an OHV operator, under state law, to drive more than two miles on any city or county roadway,” Walker said.

Booth said she was supportive. “It’s like anything else,” Booth said. “We were boaters and then along came jet skis and everyone hated the jet skis and now we’re all used to the jet skis out there. We have always gone four-wheeling. And in this area here, in Boulder City and the surrounding area, there are so many places to go and see where you can see petroglyphs and caverns and springs in the middle of the desert and it’s kind of amazing.”

Mayor Joe Hardy seemed the most skeptical, saying the idea “needs definition” and noting that some BC residential streets are designated as state highways.

“There is some looseness and I am not sure we are determining where the access points are,” he said. “I’m very uncomfortable with not defining where access points are and what the streets are that can lead to a gas station. I think it isn’t ready yet. To define OHVs as safer than other vehicles, I think depending on the make and model is questionable. The very companies that make these determine that they are not designed to be on quote unquote, city streets as far as insurance purposes are concerned. So if they are not going to build a vehicle that is insurance-worthy, then who takes the insurance liability if it is not the city itself?”

Fox countered, saying that he and most owners he knows carry at least liability insurance on their OHVs.

Jorgensen said that she was “pulled both ways” on the issue, noting that she rode motorcycles in the desert as a kid and reporting that her family owns an OHV that they currently get to the desert by using a trailer. Fox said that one of the main complaints that council members reported hearing from residents — dust — might be lessened by allowing off-roaders to access the desert directly from their driveways. “Right now, you have a truck and a trailer and the OHV and that creates more dust.”

Soon-to-depart City Manager Taylour Tedder (this was his final city council meeting) said, “If this is something you decide you want to move forward with, staff would put together all of the research that we have on hand and present all of the different options that would work legally and for the community. Show you a map and show you the areas that could be designated and what that might look like.”

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