Snowmobiling in the City of Whitehall will be legal this winter for the first time since the mid-1970s after voters Tuesday approved a citizen referendum.
The referendum passed with 795 yes votes to 528 no votes in the unofficial count.
The referendum directs the city council amend the current ordinance to allow for the lawful operation of snowmobiles in the city from Dec. 1 through April 1 between, at a minimum, the hours of 7 a.m. to 12 a.m. on routes designated by the city council.
The city has banned snowmobiling, except for specific and limited events, after voters, three times, defeated proposals to allow that winter recreational use. The last time a proposal was defeated was in 2005.
Efforts to determine a designated route and regulations are expected to begin in a couple of weeks, according to Whitehall City Manager Scott Huebler, who said he spoke with Mayor Emery Hatch.
“The plan would be for him (Mayor Hatch) to appoint a couple of council members to meet with staff, likely the week of the 19th, to discuss a route and regulations,” wrote Huebler in an email response to a Beacon inquiry. “This will be bounced off the chamber (White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce) for review and comment then to council for approval on the 27th. If approved, we publish on December 2 and snowmobiles would be legal December 12.”
Huebler cautioned that this is a tentative plan and schedule, and the earliest the city could enact anything.
Supporters of the referendum said passage would close a gap in a 175-mile stretch of groomed trails in Muskegon and Oceana counties, encouraging more snowmobile tourism and bolstering the local economy.
“We are really pleased that the residents of Whitehall have approved snowmobiling within the city,” said Mark Zickel, owner of Pub 111 in downtown Whitehall and a member of the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce board. “It should prove to be a real economic boost for many downtown businesses that face challenging times during the winter. Provided mother nature cooperates with snow, we plan to be open 7 days a week, opening again on Sundays to accommodate the increase in week-end activity anticipated from snowmobilers visiting our downtown.”
Opponents were concerned about the noise of snowmobiles, especially at night, possible damage to road surfaces from snowmobile track studs, wondered where the designated route would be, and questioned the economic benefits for businesses in the city.
Overall, proposals on local and state ballots did not fare well on Tuesday.
A $31 million bond proposal for facility improvements at Muskegon Community College went down by 686 votes (35,846 no to 35,160 yes).
Grant Township voters in Oceana County defeated a millage request (.2397 mills) for library services. It was defeated 603 no votes to 409 yes votes.
However, Oceana County voters approved a millage proposal to establish and fund a County Department of Veterans Affairs. The millage would be .10 mills (10˘ for every 1,000 of taxable value of property). It passed with 5,736 yes votes to 5,112 no votes.
The six state proposals, five of which called for constitutional amendments, all went down in defeat.
Proposal I which called for allowing the Governor to appoint Emergency Managers for local governments in financial crisis was defeated by 51% of the voters. Proposal 2 establishing collective bargaining in the state constitution was defeated by nearly 62%.
On Proposal 3 which called for a constitutional standard for renewable energy, voters defeated it by 65%.
Proposal 4, calling for the constitutional establishment of a quality home care council and to provide collective bargaining for in-home care workers, went down by 60%.
Proposal 5, which called for a constitutional amendment to limit enactment of new taxes by state government was defeated by over 68% of the voters.
And, Proposal 6, which called for a constitutional amendment requiring voters to approve construction of international bridges or tunnels, went down by nearly 61%.