Legislation for off-highway vehicle (OHV) users in the province enacted last week establishes permanent rules of the road that will improve safety, access and economic development across rural Nova Scotia, according to Public Works Minister Kim Masland.

“Connectivity is so important in rural Nova Scotia,” she told The Journal in an interview on March 24, following introduction of the new Road Trails Act. “I’m an MLA for an area that is very rural [Queens], and this is fabulous for businesses to be able to have many of these off-highway vehicles that are out to come to their restaurants and have lunch or fill up at the local gas station.”

She added: “The other thing with this legislation is that it is something that municipalities have been asking for as well, especially in rural parts of the province. It will allow them to create a bylaw that [enables them] to use their own public and municipal infrastructure to access trails.”

The Road Trails Act effectively codifies the set of regulations the province put in place in 2018, when it began a pilot program to broaden access for OHVs to public roads in seven rural areas of the province, including Sherbrooke (Highway Trunk 7).

Hoping to improve rural connections, the program allowed four-wheeled OHVs to access the shoulders of roadways — and, where necessary, the roadway — to travel safely from one trail to another, or to access facilities, such as gas stations.

Prior to this, Masland said, “OHVs were only allowed to be on trails or access the ditches on public highways.” The new legislation, which updates the Off-highway Vehicles Act (last amended in 2006), also “carries forward the rules of the pilot [and enforcement] of Department of Natural Resources officers on the trails and RCMP and municipal police officers on the sides of our public roadways.”

The rules specifically state that in the pilot areas (rural communities in Halifax Regional Municipality, Lunenburg County, Digby County, East Hants, Guysborough County and Cape Breton Regional Municipality), an OHV driver must have a valid licence to operate on the rights of way or roadways. The vehicle he or she is driving must also be registered and insured; all riders must wear helmets; and all passengers must be nine or older.

According to the evaluation report — which relied on consultations with stakeholders from the pilot communities — “there was not significant degradation of the roadway” and “most businesses interviewed benefitted and were supportive of OHV use of public highways in their area.” Moreover, it said, “There is support for creating additional opportunities for road access. Potential options for future sites were raised by stakeholders and survey participants.”

Masland said, “We will continue with these seven locations, and we will start looking at other areas that would qualify as good sites as well… But these are rules that are now in legislation, and I can tell you that there is a lot of excitement about it in Nova Scotia.”

The Journal did not receive a response to its request for comment from the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s by press time.

In the news release that accompanied the announcement, All-Terrain Vehicle Association of Nova Scotia Executive Director Barry Barnet said: “Our members across Nova Scotia have been patiently waiting for this day. This legislation will help us make vital connections, create safer travel and grow the local economy.”

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 29, 2023 at 09:47

This item reprinted with permission from   Guysborough Journal   Guysborough, Nova Scotia
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