Sherriff explains the B2B route memo to the Cook County Board
Feb 14, 2020 08:30AM
● By Editor
Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen appeared before the Cook County Board of Commissioners on February 11 to discuss the Border-to- Border (B2B) route, a maze of roads that will connect the eastern and western borders of Minnesota across the northern third of the state using minimum maintenance and rugged roadways.
More specifically, Eliasen was there to explain a text he sent to commissioners expressing some caution he had about the county joining the planned route.
Here is the email sent to the commissioners:
“Before I get too busy in the New Year and forget to draft this letter, I am just going to get after it right now.
“Here are some bullet points with the concerns I have currently regarding the Border To Border route and the County promoting it:
* Unknown amount of new visitors in the area which is already experiencing a tipping point where demand far outweighs resources and the ability to conjure further reserves if needed.
*We are unique in that our trails skirt wilderness areas which historically have been wildland fire concerns with the normal traffic. Introducing more motorized traffic has the potential for increased fire risk.
*Increased patrol for law enforcement and increased response for my office and for EMS, Fire, and SAR personnel.
* Unknown if funding exists for road maintenance and whether State and Federal agencies will share these costs or the potential for the County to be affixed with maintenance costs by simply promoting the route without firm commitments from other partners.
“These are some of the concerns which I have, and I am sure there are others who will voice additional concerns. I think there are too many variables to agree that Cook County will become a partner in this venture and promote this as an activity,” said Sheriff Eliasen in his email.
As Pat noted at the February 11 meeting, as sheriff he has to address potential risks and find ways to mitigate those risks, not only for his officers but also for the search and rescue volunteers who aren’t paid and contribute a lot of their free time to helping out. But he added, “I’m not opposed to the route by any means.”
What is B2B?
Planning for the B2B route began in 2015 when the state Legislature directed the DNR to oversee the project and to work in conjunction with the Minnesota Four-Wheel Drive Association to discuss off-road vehicle touring routes and other issues related to off-road vehicle activities.
First authorized in 1984, Minnesota’s OHV trails assistance is a cost-share program intended to help develop and maintain trails for use by all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles, and off-road vehicles.
Dubbed the OHV grant-in-aid program, it helps to establish and sustain recreational trails at the initiative of clubs and other organizations, with the support and participation of local government sponsors.
Organizations can apply for grant-in-aid funds through counties, cities, or townships.
The B2B has been described as a backcountry scenic byway being designed for licensed vehicles that are typically lower gear, all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive that have a high clearance that can be driven on low to not maintained gravel or dirt roads.
The B2B is for highway-licensed vehicles on a highway licensed vehicle route, so it’s not creating any new system or trail that highway-licensed vehicles cannot already drive on.
The DNR has partnered with the National Off- Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) and the Minnesota Four-Wheel Drive Association (MN4WDA) on this project. One of the benefits to the county is that if the county is included in the route, it has the potential to bring significant tourism benefits to northern Minnesota.
As far as where the route will end up, the DNR has said that it would depend upon where the communities want it to be.
Between March 2017 and June 2018, the DNR designed a draft route based on input received from informational meetings and local knowledge, with the second set of public informational meetings held to gather input on the draft core touring trail for highway licensed vehicles.
Trail planners worked with local communities to identify connections to significant natural, cultural, and historic areas of interest, out of the way restaurants and lodging, and locations for technical riding areas as part of the planning for the trail.
Through the planning stages, there have been two groups, those for the route and those against the route. Those against have pointed out the potential for increased traffic on these quiet back roads, possible invasive species being carried from North Dakota to Cook County by OHV vehicles, stream and water degradation, noise pollution, and potential cost to repair roads, unwanted signage, and added costs of law enforcement.
The Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa told the DNR that the B2B route could not go through tribal lands.
Clearwater County, which was on the B2B map, passed a resolution asking the route to skip their county. Part of their resolution stated “the ideal route would be rugged, unpaved, low maintenance roads with obstacles like roots, trees, rocks, to encourage slower speed,
“And whereas, enforcing the legal and responsible use of public roadways by Off-Highway Vehicles may not be possible through the resources available to County Government. Self-policing is unlikely to be successful because of the nature of the B2B trail activities and whereas, the additional cost for road maintenance and repair would be significant for Clearwater County, and while there are proposed provisions for repairs, it seems doubtful that Clearwater County would be made whole.”
The present situation
Because of local opposition to the B2B, the DNR has been looking at establishing the trailhead for the route in Lake County. Still, organizers of B2B tours have stated they will come to Cook County even if the trailhead isn’t here, noting there is nothing anyone can legally do to stop them from using the back roads.
At the February 11 meeting, commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk, who is secretary for Tread-Lightly, an organization that supports establishing the B2B in Cook County, asked Sheriff Eliasen if he applies the same level of scrutiny to other events like fat tire bike races, etc. that occur in the county. Eliasen said the organizers of these events plan and take care of the details concerning the races, but he does assign deputies at road intersections to ensure the safety of racers.
Doo-Kirk noted that much of the controversy around the B2B was much the same as occurred around snowmobilers, who were not treated well in the 1990s and, by and large, stopped coming to the county for many years. “This lack of business had a drastic impact on the local economy,” she said.
Eliasen said he remembered the negative impact of losing snowmobilers to the area, and suggested that if the county accepts the route, that it be monitored every two or three years like ATV riders, who not long ago weren’t allowed to ride on most parts of the Gunflint Trail.
Commissioner Dave Mills said he shares some of the same concerns the sheriff stated in his email but added he doesn’t see this as an “us versus them” situation, and he didn’t want to “pit people against each other.” Before making a decision, however, he said he wanted to learn more about the pros and cons of the B2B route.
Commissioner Bobby Deschampe said he drove logging trucks weighing more than 100,000 pounds on the back roads, and the roads weren’t damaged. Deschampe said the county had room for everybody, those that liked quiet sports and those who wanted to drive a B2B route.
Both commissioners Myron Bursheim and Ginny Storlie said the board should spend some more time gathering information and then make a decision at the board’s last meeting this month, and that’s where the conversation ended.