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ATV Ordinance Reversed in Unanimous Decision

BROOKSVILLE – Just over a year after it was passed, the Hernando Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) overturned an ordinance that prohibited anyone from operating an ATV on unpaved roadways.

Commissioner Steve Champion led the effort after several Royal Highlands residents said the measure is overreaching, restricts basic freedoms, and allowed the Sheriff's Office to conduct traffic stops without probable cause.

Commissioner Champion, who cast the only "No Vote" when the ordinance originally passed said, "You have to remember that you are passing a law that restricts law-abiding citizens from riding on the road when the state allows it." Champion continued voicing criticism over the ordinance stating, "This does not coincide with conservative values and it's an attack on basic freedoms." Commissioner John Allocco proposed the ban and drew support from Commissioners Brian Hawkins, Beth Narverud, and Jerry Campbell.

Earlier this year, Sheriff Al Nienhuis launched operations to enforce the ban by deploying ATVs, UTVs, drones, the Air Unit, and several other resources to issue citations to anyone caught riding an ATV in the Royal Highlands area.

Nienhuis touted his enforcement efforts and claimed that 90% of the ATV operators were causing problems in Royal Highlands. That claim infuriated law-abiding ATV proponents, like Matthieu Scott, who said it's only a small percentage of riders who cause problems. Scott decided to start a movement in his community to reverse the ordinance.

Nienhuis and the four commissioners doubled down in support of the ordinance, and to prove he was right, Nienhuis sent out a "push poll" survey to over 13,000 residents asking if they support ATV enforcement. To his surprise, the results were overwhelmingly in favor of overturning the ordinance and giving freedom back to the ATV operators.

In light of the results, Hawkins, Campbell, and Narverud flipped their opinion to line up with Champion and ATV operators, and after voting unanimously to overturn the ordinance, Hawkins and Campbell gave all the credit to Sheriff Nienhuis for conducting his survey.

Campbell said, "Commissioner Hawkins I think uh that uh that I give the Sheriff's Office a lot of credit uh for taking the initiative uh, but was the survey perfect, no uh but I think he laid out a pretty good plan uh and executed that plan and how it was going to be done uh."

Hawkins also thanked Sheriff Nienhuis and made it very clear that his decision was based on Sheriff Nienhuis' survey results.

R News asked Sheriff Nienhuis for his take on today's decision and stated, "The purpose of the ATV survey was to provide the Board of County Commissioners with empirical data to assist them in their decision-making. I am glad the survey ended up being beneficial to them."

Joe Puglia, the candidate vying to replace Nienhuis as Sheriff stated, "I'm glad this ordinance has been reversed. Let the folks enjoy the outdoor life that Royal Highlands affords them. I met with them, and they are a great group of people who do not cause problems, despite what the Sheriff claims. Maybe now the Sheriff can reallocate those resources to actually fighting crime and arresting drug traffickers. If you think for one minute that Sheriff Nienhuis had any intention of using that poll to reverse the ordinance, you are delusional. It didn't work out the way he had hoped.

Prior to the vote, which was already poised to pass, Scott took to the podium to thank the board and remind them of the difference between a Republic and a Democracy. Scott said in part, "Democracy is dangerous. Surveys are a dangerous game played in democracy, in my opinion, a mobocracy. If there are surveys to be done, they should be done by someone who is not vested in the process. The Sheriff had already declared through his agent that we [ATV operators] are troublemakers and there was a lot of divisive language."

For unknown reasons, Commissioner Allocco was not present at today's meeting. Some say he wanted to avoid public ridicule over spearheading the ordinance, especially since he is up for reelection against non-establishment Republican Marvin Baynham. Commissioner Narverud is also up for reelection and will battle newcomer Ryan Amsler this fall.


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