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In need of Gator-aid: New law detours mayor

Staff writer

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt was the first to register his all-purpose vehicle for use on city streets — and when he crossed the Main St. bridge while driving it to work Thursday, he unknowingly became perhaps the first to break the new ATV law.

The only way across Luta Creek is Main St., but since Main St. is a state highway, ATVs are prohibited on it.

The city council — including Heitschmidt — unanimously approved a new law Nov. 10 stipulating that only golf carts may cross the creek, and that they must use a sidewalk on the north side of the Main St. bridge. No other special purpose vehicles can cross the creek or Main St., according to the ordinance.

The prohibition on Main St. means ATV drivers are restricted to operating their vehicles in only one of the four quadrants of the city. There is no legal way for ATVs to go from the valley to the hill or from the north part of town to the south, and vice versa.

Heitschmidt said city officials spent between four and six months crafting multiple revisions of the ordinance. His misunderstanding of what the final ordinance allowed stemmed from previous versions that sought to allow all ATVs access over the creek, he said.

Now Heitschmidt wants the law modified with language allowing all ATVs to cross the creek, which would make his gas-powered John Deere Gator legal to drive back and forth between the east and west sides of town.

“I will apologize,” Heitschmidt said. “I don’t want to violate an ordinance based on how it’s written. But the intent was always there.

“The intent was to get from one place to another,” Heitschmidt said, “or we wasted a lot of time. It was never intended to be just a golf cart ordinance.”

At the Dec. 8 council meeting, Heitschmidt announced that he had purchased the first ATV registration, $75 for two years. He also said that the sidewalk along the bridge was in need of widening to accommodate his and other ATVs.

“Truly, my issue is that this can be fixed very quickly by amending Section 2 that would state all all-terrain vehicles may be operated on the pedestrian sidewalk, and that would take care of it,” Heitschmidt said.

“We spent a lot of time on this,” Heitschmidt said. “Long term, only golf carts allowed to cross is not the best solution.”

Asked whether he would continue crossing the creek in his Gator knowing it was illegal under the current ordinance, Heitschmidt said he was not sure.

“By the letter of the law, the police department could write a ticket,” Heitschmidt said. “It’s up to their discretion until the letter of the law is fixed.”

The issue arose after Heitschmidt posed for a photo with his new registration sticker freshly mounted on his Gator last week. After the photo shoot, Heitschmidt was asked how he could legally drive his ATV over the creek on Main St. if it was not a golf cart. Heitschmidt shook his head in disagreement and maintained that any type of all-purpose vehicle could cross over the creek, per the new law.

Heitschmidt then conferred with City Administrator Roger Holter and acknowledged that by driving his Gator over the creek he had broken “the letter of the law.”

Since then, Holter has contacted the Kansas Department of Transportation about the possibility of installing a bicycle-ATV lane on Main St.. Police Chief Tyler Mermis said he was working with Holter to expand the ordinance so it would allow all special purpose vehicles to cross the creek.

Last modified Dec. 18, 2014

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