By Stephen Smoot
Toward the opening of its regular meeting last week, the Harrison County Commission debated a slate of ordinance options presented by the Harrison County attorney. Each would in some fashion restrict or ban outright the use of motorized vehicles on any part of the county’s “Rails to Trails” system.
Each option included a waiver for emergency response vehicles. They also exempted any who must drive through part of the trail to access their residence.
The first option, labeled “Exhibit A” specified a ban against gasoline powered combustion engine driven vehicles. Exhibits B and C carried a broader prohibition against any motorized vehicle.
The county attorney suggested that the commission adopt the “B” option. Commissioner David Hinkle asked how Exhibit B handled gasoline engines. The attorney responded by saying that he recommended B because it “provides for a prohibition of any motorized vehicles, including electric.”
“Did you make an exception for Class I e bikes?” Hinkle asked. The attorney responded by saying B would ban all of them.
When asked why the commission should support B over A, the attorney replied that “if you start to craft distinctions, you have problems” and “it’s easier to apply if you ban them all” a “broad prohibition without exception.”
Hinkle protested that “I think that’s totally wrong.” He argued that e bikes “help elderly people to use the trails” and “my recommendation is to not even consider B as far as electric vehicles go.” He then proposed that Harrison County Commission President Susan Thomas set up a session to discuss the issue in more detail.
Thomas and Trecost, however, voted down Hinkle and stated that a second reading would take place in two weeks. Hinkle shot back that today’s action didn’t represent a first reading and closed the discussion with “we’ll see how this commission likes writing tickets to elderly people trying to use their electric bikes.”
Kathleen Panek, owner of the historic Gillum House bed and breakfast in Shinnston, said “rail trails are very beneficial for a city or county because they give a quality of life people want.” She added that they also raise values of property located near or along them.
“Many seniors have embraced the e-bike as an aid,” Panek also said, but “only e-bikes that are pedal assist.”
As far as the ordinance is concerned Panek, who is also Shinnston City Clerk, noted that “federal law bans motorized vehicles – except motorized wheelchairs – on any trail or rail trail built using Federal funds, usually alternate transportation grants.”