MADERA COUNTY — After two years of trying to navigate the complicated process involved in creating an OHV (Off-Highway Vehicle) park in the O’Neals area, the Madera County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 yesterday to kill the project.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler was the only “no” vote when District 1 Supervisor Brett Frazier made the motion to cancel the lease and end the project.
“I’ve been frustrated with this from the very beginning,” said Frazier, who said he just didn’t know if it would ever come to fruition.
In November 2015, the Board approved a contract to purchase 956 acres of land situated between Minarets High School and the east side of Highway 41 near Blackhawk Lodge to create an OHV park, with most of the funding for the $2.3 million property anticipated to come from state and federal grants. The park was intended to be operated by a private entity.
In October 2016, the Board voted to cancel the purchase agreement, and later entered into a lease with landowner Margaret Jamison, with an extension approved in December 2016 at $1 a month, allowing the County to continue studying the project.
Throughout the process, there has been vocal opposition from O’Neals area residents, concerned citizens, the Madera Oversight Coalition, and the Native American Tribes who have historic ties to the land.
Others have expressed the need for a safe, legal place for their families to enjoy riding off-road, and have been strongly in favor of the project.
It has been a “cart before the horse” situation, according to some who have spoken at the Board meeting over the length of this process, a sentiment echoed by District 3 Supervisor Robert Poythress, who is new to the Board this year.
“It sounds like we’re acquiring property and then back-filling with a business plan,” said Poythress at Tuesday’s Board meeting. “I hope the County won’t get stuck with something we have to fund year after year, and that we don’t have additional obligations on the books from an operating standpoint. ”
There were also concerns about the liability involved with the operation of Off-Highway Vehicles.
District 4 Supervisor Max Rodriguez didn’t mince words in expressing his opposition to continuing with the project.
“I’ve listened to all the arguments, and I’m not going to beat around the bush,” said Rodriguez. “I fear the liability for the County in the future; I’m totally against this project and I think we ought to shut it down and not take any more staff time to evaluate it. I feel the tone of the Board is that we’re getting into something we don’t know anything about, and the liability is too huge for the County.”
District 2 Supervisor David Rogers was not in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting.