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Snowmobilers Seeking Overhaul On Fees, Violations
Snowmobilers are hoping to see a number of changes to the laws that regulate their sport before next winter, but some details on those changes are still in progress.
The key change the Michigan Snowmobile Association is pushing is to trail permit fees, and to fines for not having a permit, Executive Director Bill Manson told Gongwer News Service.
Between declining participation and increasing costs, Mr. Manson said the current fees are barely covering costs.
“Twelve years ago, we thought $45 would take care of us for a long, long time,” he said. But he said even with the inflationary increase coming for next winter to $48, the clubs that run the trail maintenance program are going to begin falling behind.
A portion of the trail fees are provided as grants to local clubs to purchase and operate trail grooming equipment and provide other maintenance on the system.
The $3 increase, if trail permits hold steady, would bring in about $378,000. But Mr. Manson said a single grooming machine would take about $250,000 of that. And the state has 178 grooming machines that will need to be replaced in the next few years.
Recent trends also leave an estimate of flat trail permit sales in question. He did not have final numbers, but Mr. Manson said about 126,000 permits were sold for 2015-16, down from 142,000 the winter before.
Before the recession, the state was selling 260,000 trail permits each year, Mr. Manson said.
A final proposal has not been set for a fee recommendation. Mr. Manson said he is working with Department of Natural Resources officials on a formula to project costs for the next decade and use that to build an appropriate trail fee.
The group is also pushing for a substantial increase in the fine for riding the trails without a permit.
Current law provides fines between $50 and $100. “If the fine is only $50, a lot of people will say, ‘I’ll wait and see if I get caught,'” he said. The group is hoping to see those fines boosted to between $200 and $300.
Mr. Manson said he has been working with Rep. Bruce Rendon
(R-Lake City) on these and other issues, but also recognizes the increases could be a struggle. “The Legislature works well with us except (for) trail increases,” he said. “They hate to see any kind of increase.”
While the group is looking at fines, Mr. Manson said he is also reviewing the rest of the snowmobile violations to determine whether the designations of civil infraction and misdemeanor are appropriate. If there need to be changes, he said it would make sense to move them all through at the same time.
It is also reviewing the distribution of the portion of the fees that go to law enforcement. Mr. Manson said the formula had changed in recent years to provide more to the DNR. While he said some to the DNR was appropriate, the group wanted to be sure it was being divided in a way that actually ensured a law enforcement presence on the trails.
“For a while there, we were looking at less than one per county,” he said of DNR conservation officers. “It’s hard to have patrols out on the trails when you have less than one per county.”
The group is calling for changes to the sound tests for snowmobiles, but he said those are mostly to bring Michigan law in line with current industry standards. He said the law was recently changed to accommodate the stationary test that is now the standard, but he said the protocols in the law do not recognize the shift in the industry from two-stroke engines to four-stroke and the related changes in operating ranges. The tests require the engine to be in a set revolutions-per-minute range that Mr. Manson said is appropriate for two-strokes but not for four-strokes.