Golden Township nixes proposal to allow ORVs on roads.

June 9, 2021

Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast addresses the audience at the Golden Township Board meeting Tuesday evening, June 8.

Golden Township nixes proposal to allow ORVs on roads.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

MEARS — After hearing many residents voice their opposition to a proposal to allow off-road vehicles on township roads, the Golden Township Board voted unanimously to scrap the plan Tuesday evening, June 8.

Approximately 60 residents attended the regular meeting in the township hall meeting room, which is the former Golden Elementary School gym, on a hot and muggy night. 

Golden Township is the location of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, which is the only place of its kind east of the Mississippi River. The picturesque dunes are located in Silver Lake State Park, which attracts over a million visitors each year. Dune riders from all over Michigan and other states travel to the unique setting every summer to zoom through the sand on their ORVs and dune buggies.

Oceana County does not have a countywide ORV ordinance, so it is up to the governing bodies of each of its 19 municipalities — including 16 townships — to determine whether or not they want to have an ordinance to allow or prohibit the use of ORVs on roads within their respective townships.

Most municipalities have moved to allow ORVs on roads including: Colfax Township, Crystal Township, Elbridge Township, Ferry Township, Grant Township, Greenwood Township, Hart City, Hart Township, Leavitt Township, Newfield Township, Otto Township, Pentwater Village, Shelby Township, Shelby Village and Weare Township, according to the Oceana County Sheriff’s Office website.

Townships banning ORVs are Benona, Claybanks, Pentwater and now Golden.

Many Silver Lake area residents cited safety concerns as their reason for opposing the plan, which was recommended by the Golden Township Planning Commission.

“I am very concerned,” said one resident. “The number of vehicles on the road has exploded over the last many years. This is a big safety problem.”

“They’re not designed for the road,” said another concerned citizen. “They’re ORVs — they’re off-road vehicles. They’re not equipped; not insured; and not licensed. They’re a hazard to themselves, and not only us. Someone is going to get killed.”

Some Silver Lake business owners pushed for a “trial run” of the plan.

“I’m fully supportive of a trial,” said Chad Coker. “We can’t govern with our fears. Unless we try it, we will not know.”

“All this speculation of chaos I really disagree with,” said Craig Cihak. “I would be the first one against it if it got out of hand. I don’t think they will be terrorizing the township.”

“Who’s responsible if there is a lawsuit?” asked a concerned citizen.

“It should be up to the voters,” a resident said. “We can’t bring back a life.”

“I believe you’re opening a Pandora’s box.”

“It’s going to be dangerous — it’s going to be deadly,” said another resident.

“If this is what the residents want, I will work with them — this doesn’t appear to be what the residents want,” said Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast, whose statement was followed by applause. “I need to stay in my own lane. My lane is safety and security — I am trying to stay on that task.”

Mast said a county-wide ordinance is preferable, because each township has a different one, making it challenging to police.

“People are very passionate about this issue,” he said. 

The sheriff said he does not have enough deputies to patrol Golden Township if ORVs are allowed. “It takes money – policing,” he said. “Right now, I have two deputies on duty for the entire county.” 

A deputy is assigned to Golden Township each weekend during the summer through state funding. 

Neighboring county Newaygo allows ORVs through a county-wide ordinance, he said. Mason County does not have a countywide ordinance. It is up to each municipality. All municipalities, except Meade Township, allow them, including Ludington and Scottville.

“This might be an opportunity moving forward, but I don’t think it is right now,” said Mast. “There is a lot of opposition.”

“I can’t imagine the population of ORV rental businesses popping up,” said a resident. “There would be first-time users all over. Public safety concerns should outweigh convenience.”

“I am dead-set opposed to this,” said another resident.

Township Clerk Rachel Iteen said the township received 14 letters regarding the ORV proposal, and of them were against the plan.

“We can’t go forward with the ORV ordinance,” said Township Trustee Bill Kolenda, who is a local business owner. “At this time, it doesn’t fit our community until we have clear law enforcement support.”

“My question is what is the benefit to Golden Township?” asked Township Trustee Gary Beggs. “I don’t believe that question has been answered. I can’t support this ordinance.”

All five board members — Kolenda, Iteen, Beggs, Supervisor Carl Fuehring and Treasurer Connie Cargill – voted to deny the recommendation of the planning commission and not go forward with the proposal. Their action was followed by applause.

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