Four-wheeler legislation could keep vehicles out of creeks, rivers

ATLANTA -- The drivers of all-terrain vehicles who go up a creek would be breaking the law if the General Assembly passes a measure proposed by Republican Rep. Chuck Sims.

House Bill 207 would make it illegal for off-road vehicles to drive up rivers or creeks except for crossing them. He said the aim is to prevent silt, stop trespassing and to combat the growing of marijuana in areas only accessible by water.

"In times of drought when the water levels are really, really low, these drivers of ATVs just jump down in the river and ride right up the river," he said.

The measure has the support of property owners, the Department of Natural Resources and environmentalists, Mr. Sims said.

However, it may not have universal appeal in the House Motor Vehicles Committee where it was assigned.

"I do run into some problems over and over in that committee," Mr. Sims said.

He introduced the same bill last year late in the session, but it died. He has also tried other bills restricting who can ride ATVs and where they can operate, often failing to gain traction.

Mr. Sims is an undertaker by profession and has often spoken passionately in the House about his frustration at seeing the bodies of children killed in ATV accidents.

On the other hand, off-road vehicles are popular in many rural areas of the state, and their owners have mobilized to persuade many of their legislators to oppose Mr. Sims' bills.

Despite their popularity with hunters and recreational riders, ATVs also cause their share of property damage – and injuries – in the Augusta area.

“We do receive complaints from time to time,” said Capt. Steve Morris of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office. “Some, but not all, ATV drivers demonstrate their lack of respect for someone else’s property and our roads and bridges personnel often find themselves repairing damaged and eroding rights of way caused by inconsiderate TV operators.”

The county, he added, has its own local code that authorizes deputies to issue misdemeanor citations to anyone caught riding ATVs or similar vehicles on any county road or right of way. “In most cases, when we respond to a complaint, a word to the wise is all that’s necessary,” he said. “But in other cases, law enforcement is a must.”

Thurmond Lake, with more than 60,000 acres of “collarlands” managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, routinely repairs erosion damage caused by unlawful ATV use.

Sumter National Forest, with more than 300,000 acres in scores of separate parcels, also has its share of ATV issues, according to U.S. Forest Service officials who issue numerous citations each year for riders using the machines in unauthorized areas.

They are not allowed on Forest Service roads or public roads, but there are about 20 miles of designated trails in Abbeville County where people can enjoy season riding opportunities. Typically, the trails close for the winter after Jan. 1 and reopen and last Friday in March.

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