OTTUMWA — The City of Ottumwa appears ready to add a more detailed section to its code regarding the use of utility-terrain vehicles inside city limits.

City staff and the council addressed the topic during a work session Tuesday, as the council was presented a draft ordinance outlining specific requirements for UTV operation. The first reading of the ordinance is expected at Tuesday's council meeting.

The change would amend chapters 23 and 26 of the code to include a section strictly for UTV usage. The city is revising its ordinance because the state made changes to its laws last July, and it's been a popular topic with residents since last fall.

The UTV ordinance excludes dune buggies, golf carts, go-carts, mini trucks, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and electric scooters, and people will only be able to drive a UTV in designated areas where the speed limit is under  35 mph.

Also, a UTV can't be operated on any of the trails in the city, or on frozen ponds in Greater Ottumwa Park. Only one of the ponds was suitable for it driving a UTV, but that one is being filled in; the others are not deep enough and are mostly used for fishing, parks and recreation director Gene Rathje said.

"One of the issues has been the inconsistent winter weather, with freezing and thawing," Rathje said. "If the ice is only an inch or two thick, which is hard to tell by first glance, it's really not a safe activity on ponds that are 10 to 15 feet deep. The city doesn't want to assume that liability."

Mayor Rick Johnson continued to dig into the matter of where residents could drive UTVs recreationally, and also believed there should be signage that says if they are allowed in certain areas.

"I just know a lot of people enjoy that, and it's like anything else, when you take something away, it's always nice if you can turn around and give it back in a different manner," he said. "I think at least it's something the city needs to kind of consider at some point in the future. I hope at some point maybe there could be another location where it could be done."

Drivers of UTVs must be 18 and carry liability insurance, even though Iowa's law for having a driver's license is 16. The council would also have to approve resolutions for UTVs to be allowed on certain streets; the only time they could be on a prohibited street is for emergencies or for snow removal.

"Obviously, it's treated like any other motor vehicle on the roadway," police chief Chad Farrington said. "If an officer can articulate and believe that a person was under the legal age to be operating it, then they have reasonable suspicion to go and pull it over and make the traffic stop."

Council members seemed to be on board with the framework of the ordinance, but no residents spoke on the matter. City administrator Philip Rath did recommend one change to the draft.

"I would consider adding a section and talking about an exemption for municipal vehicles," he said. "So if we have like the campground hosts having a Gator, we can make sure that is able to be used there. We have people that use a vehicle on Main Street for watering the flower beds, things like that."

— Chad Drury can be reached at, and on Twitter @ChadDrury


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