The Whitehall City Council Tuesday night approved an ordinance amendment which would open up most of the city streets, alleys and the White Lake Pathway to the use of snowmobiles between Dec. 1 and April 1.
The action by the council was made as a result of a passage of the citizen referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot which was solidly approved by voters (795 yes to 528 No), ending a ban on snowmobiling, except by special permission from the city for an event, since the mid-1970s. Efforts to overturn the ban failed three previous times of that span.
The new ordinance would only ban snowmobile use on Colby Street and Thompson St. (BR-31), Mears Ave. Division St. and Lake St., as well as on closed streets, in any city park or city-owned natural area except if receiving prior permission by the city.
Monday night the council opened up portions of the city parking lots to snowmobile parking to allow access to the downtown businesses.
“We voted for designated routes, not designated exceptions,” complained resident Ellie Dennis, one of four audience members who spoke against the plan at the council meeting. She believed the referendum would just allow snowmobilers to pass through the city. “Why not have one route or two routes. Lake Street would be ideal.”
Dennis said her biggest disappointment was the city opening up the White Lake Pathway to snowmobiling. She said the path was limited to walkers and bicyclists.
Dennis said the city doesn’t have money to plow the sidewalks, and asked, “Who will pay for signs and covering on the bridges?”
Oscar Reed of the West Shore Snowmobile Council said it has signs the city could use. Snowmobilers have also offered to cover the bridge surfaces with a rubber mat to protect them from stubs on the snowmobile tracks.
It wasn’t just opponents who spoke to the council.
“I don’t think they read the same thing I read on the ballot, resident Dale Lieffers said, referring to the wording on the referendum. “ I saw it said the community would make the decision (on routes) and I think they made the right decision.”
The referendum asked voters to approve the use of snowmobiles in the city between Dec. 1 and April 1 between, at a minimum of 7 a.m. to 12 a.m., on routes designated by the city council.
The more open route plan approved by the council was presented by a Committee which met the previous week. The committee included City Manager Scott Huebler, City Attorney Rodger Sweeting, Police Chief Roger Squiers, Public Works Director Brian Armstrong and council members James Bartholomew, Orville Smith and Tanya Cabala.
The committee also recommended more lenient hours, 7 a.m. to 3 a.m., which resulted in the only no vote on the motion to approve the committee recommendation. Mayor Pro-Tem Edd Whalen said he wasn’t comfortable with the late hours. “I wasn’t ready to make an amendment (to the hours),” Whalen said after the meeting.
Bartholomew explained the thinking of the committee in not limiting the routes and hours.
He said opening up the White Lake Pathway to snowmobiles provides the safest route through the city, connecting bike trails which currently allow snowmobile use in the winter.
Opening up residential streets and alleys will allow residents to get to the trail and downtown, and the extended hours will allow snowmobilers to drive home after attending late events. “We don’t want to set them up to fail,” he added.
Bartholomew said the ban of snowmobiles will continue for the roads which have curbs, or is a state highway.
Cabala said she wasn’t interested in seeing snowmobiles on the trail, but agreed it was the safest route through the city. She said the city’s Department of Public Works agreed to video tape the surface of the trail now and in the spring to determine if snowmobiles have cause damage.
The city will also review the impact of the snowmobile ordinance next year to determine if any changes need to be made.