Northumberland County says snowmobiling is currently not permitted on trails in the Northumberland County Forest.
This comes after the County and the Great Pine Ridge Snowmobile Association could not reach a consensus on the Land Use Agreement presented to the Association by the County for the 2020/2021 season.
The Great Pine Ridge Snowmobile Association (GPRSA) tells Global News the issue with the new agreement is insurance coverage. The agreement presented by the County declares the GPRSA responsible for providing insurance coverage for any motorized vehicle on the trails.
In a written statement released Wednesday, Northumberland County says the trails will remain closed until the two sides can come to a mutually-acceptable agreement.
“Municipalities are facing growing liability and insurance costs due to the principle of Joint and Several Liability,” the statement reads.
“A serious claim could result in the County paying millions of dollars in damage awards, even if deemed responsible for even a fraction of the fault, with these costs then passed on to residents and businesses through necessary property tax increases.”
The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) does cover snowmobile related incidents on OFSC prescribed trails, if there is a Land Use Agreement with the land owner of the trail. The snowmobiler must also have an Ontario Snowmobile Trail Permit.
President of the Great Pine Ridge Snowmobile Association, Steve Horner, says everyone that rides a snowmobile also has their own insurance for the machine itself. Horner says he would like an opportunity to explain to County Council how the OFSC insurance coverage works.
“I think a lot of the councilors are not against snowmobiling in the forest,” Horner said, “but I think they’re getting a lot of misleading information about what our insurance covers, but we’ve never had the opportunity to have someone from the OFSC there at a meeting, or our lawyer at a meeting to explain it.”
On a phone call with Global News, the Northumberland County Warden, Bob Crate, says he understands OFSC covers snowmobilers riding on County trails, so long as there is a Land Use Agreement in place.
Crate says what he’s worried about is if someone were to travel off a marked trail, and get into an accident on private property.
“We have to have protection for the taxpayers of Northumberland County,” Crate tells Global News.
MPP for Northumberland-Peterborough South David Piccini has also weighed in on the issue. Piccini says he’s received dozens of complaints from constituents, and calls the situation ‘unfortunate’.
“This letter reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of our community and of the volunteers,” says Piccini.
“The moms and dads that work 12 -14 hour plus shifts come home and give up their time to groom trails so that folks from rural Ontario can get out in the middle of a COVID pandemic and some small respite for mental health and enjoyment of the outdoors.”
Piccini says he has written to all members of County council, asking them to reconsider the decision.
“For those select trails that allow motorized vehicles, I understand the need to have terms and conditions and user agreements,” Piccini says. “It’s not like walking; there’s a different level of risk. I get that. But we’re elected by the people… and we have to come to terms that are reasonable.”
Crate says he has received Piccini’s letter, and is reviewing it.
“David and I get along very well,” Crate says, “and I understand his position… but we have to be covered. Whether they’re volunteers or not, we have to have protection for the taxpayers of Northumberland County.”
In the meantime, he says the County is willing to sit down with members of the GPRSA to try and work out some kind of mutual agreement.
“I hope we can have a conversation,” Crate says.
“We’re ready to have a conversation. And nothing is set in stone.”