Riding quads and snowmobiles on the streets of Sylvan Lake could be outlawed within the next few weeks.
Sylvan Lake Town Council gave first reading this fall to an amendment that repeals a bylaw allowing people ride off-highway vehicles from their homes to the lake during the winter months.
Council plans to make its final decision during its meeting Dec. 14.
Although passed only a few years ago, there are questions about whether the bylaw is appropriate, given Sylvan Lake’s rate of growth in the years since, Mayor Susan Samson said.
The bylaw was written so town residents could ride their snowmobiles to the lake during the winter months rather than loading them onto trucks for the short haul to the launch site. It was later updated to include other off-highway vehicles, said Samson.
What the bylaw does not do is give people the freedom to ride their machines around town.
The town and the RCMP have received a number of complaints, including incidents of people from out of town riding their machines into Sylvan Lake and of quad riders using the town’s streets and laneways outside the time period covered by the bylaw.
Samson said council is looking at a number of factors in its decision.
“We have gone from when that bylaw came into place to a population of over 11,000 and quite a larger square footprint of space that we occupy as a municipality. We’ve also spent a considerable amount of money connecting trails so that our citizens can walk or jog or ride their bikes.”
Samson said the town is concerned about that investment being affected by people using off-highway vehicles on those trails and for the safety of riders and drivers tangling on the streets.
“We know that, in Alberta, there are more ATVs sold per capita than any other place in North America,” said Samson.
The result has been an “explosion” in the use of off-highway vehicles, especially in year-round resort areas like Sylvan Lake, she said.
That combined with a rising number of complaints has caused council to take a hard look at its bylaw, including the ability of its bylaw officers and the RCMP to manage the complaints.
“We certainly don’t want to have quad chases. Trying to apprehend people abusing those rights has become virtually impossible,” said Samson.
Sgt. Duncan Babchuk of the Sylvan Lake RCMP said complaints handled from his detachment don’t necessarily have a direct connection with the bylaw. The problem seems to lie more with people who don’t understand that, with a few exceptions, people aren’t allowed to ride OHVs on public roads, including the ditches, he said.
Complaints about OHVs on the streets have come in outside the season when the bylaw is actually in effect and a number of those complaints involve people who have ridden into town from somewhere else.
Sylvan Lake’s current OHV bylaw is the only exception inside town limits, said Babchuk.
There are also provisions in rural areas for farmers to ride their quads on rural roads to work in their fields, he said. Those farmers must carry documents showing that they have legal access to use purple fuel.
Ultimately, there is absolutely no provision under provincial statutes for people to use ditches and roads to ride to the lake, said Babchuk.
It is therefore not possible for anyone to legally ride into town, he said.
Sylvan Lake citizens who want to have a say on the changes proposed to the bylaw are invited to speak during council’s Dec. 14. The floor will be open for comments at 5:30 p.m.