Dion Buhler leads, Trish Buhler, Jerry Giles and Maureen Giles head up Owlhead on their snowmobiles. A proposed District of Sicamous off-road vehicle bylaw, if approved, would make it possible for people on sleds and ATVs to use designated municipal roads to access local trailheads. File photo

Hurdles ahead for Sicamous off-road vehicle bylaw

RCMP, ICBC and province not yet on-board with district

Some significant hurdles remain in the way of Sicamous’ proposed off-road vehicle bylaw.

The public got a chance to view the most current draft of the bylaw during a Nov. 28 open house hosted by the District of Sicamous. Coun. Gord Bushell said more than 200 people attended and, of them, only four expressed concerns. He said the rest were “overwhelmingly in favour,” adding similar feedback has been received through an online survey.

While the bylaw remains a work in progress, the goal is to allow off-road vehicle users on designated district roads to access popular off-road recreational trails, particularly Queest and Owlhead.

“It’s basically the entire town other than parks – you can drive on the streets, but it’s only to get you to the hill and back home, you can’t drive around and get groceries or go to the restaurant,” said Bushell.

The district has devised a registration system that requires those wanting to take advantage of the bylaw to purchase a permit and decal.

“You read the bylaw, you read the rules and regulations, you sign, you pay another fee for a sticker, a Sicamous sticker that goes on your licence plate,” said Bushell. “The reason we’re doing it this way is because right now our bylaw officer can’t search a Saskatchewan plate or an Alberta plate… they can only search a B.C. plate. The big part of that is the education part… it is just like a rental agreement or contract.”

Those who seek a permit will also have to be properly insured to drive on municipal roads.

Bushell likens the bylaw to a provincial pilot project launched last summer in Chase and Qualicum Beach, one that allows residents to drive golf carts along designated municipal routes. Unlike that project, however, Bushell says the province, ICBC and the RCMP are still not onboard with the off-road vehicle bylaw.

Sicamous Sgt. Murray McNeil has a number of concerns with the proposed bylaw. Regarding the pilot project in Chase, he explained that was done with support from ICBC and the province, which agreed to amend the B.C. Motor Vehicle Act to make it work. What Sicamous is proposing, however, is currently prohibited under the act.

“For this bylaw to be passed and be legal, they would have to do what Chase has done, they would have to get the province to amend Motor Vehicle Act regulations and get ICBC to agree that this is something they support, and then ICBC would then sell insurance for ATVs or snowmobiles to be operating on the street,” said McNeil, adding this is currently not occurring anywhere in B.C.

McNeil said the only legal avenue available for use of an off-road vehicle on municipal streets is a police-issued permit. This, he explained, might be sought by a business wishing to use an ATV along a certain route. He emphasized this permit is not to promote tourism. And this is another difference McNeil sees between what Chase has and what Sicamous is pursuing.

“It doesn’t really translate to a tourism thing because no one is going into Chase and Qualicum Beach trailering in their golf carts for the privilege of driving a golf cart through those communities,” said McNeil. “It’s just for local people to get around. And I think what Sicamous is proposing is a tourism-driven thing, to try to get people to come into this community with their ATVs or with their snowmobiles and drive them on the streets…”

Bushell has stated the long-term vision for the bylaw is to help grow Sicamous’ off-road vehicle industries,especially during the spring and fall.

In addition to the bylaw being in conflict with the Motor Vehicle Act, McNeil said he personally is not in favour of the proposed bylaw due to the potential for collisions in high-traffic areas.

“You start putting snowmobiles or ATVs on streets where you have cars, in a high-traffic, area there’s potential for collision, for injury and, of course, lawsuits tied to that…,” said McNeil. “The enforcement side would be difficult as well. These are vehicles that can travel at higher rates of speed and of course, they’re suited to evade police if they wanted to. A snowmobile can take off up a logging road, and so can an ATV, and it would be very difficult for police to catch up with them. Yeah, on the law enforcement side there’s lots of concern as well.”

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