A plan to turn nearly 1,000 acres in O’Neals into a park for motocross and other off-highway vehicle sports was terminated in a 3-1 vote by the Madera County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler was the lone vote against canceling an agreement with landowner Margaret Jamison. Brett Frazier, Robert Poythress, and Max Rodriguez, of districts 1, 3, and 4 voted in favor of effectively ending the project by canceling the contract. District 2 Supervisor David Rogers was absent.
“I’m not happy about the vote,” said Wheeler, a longtime supporter of an OHV park in Madera County. “But there was a lot of public sentiment building against it so I knew it was coming ... people have been wanting a park like this since I’ve been elected. It’s frustrating this happened, but hey, you move on.”
In November of 2015, the county first approved purchasing 956 acres for the potential park, owned by Jamison, stretching from the northern boundary of Minarets High School to east of Highway 41 across from Black Hawk Lodge. That purchase was conditional on getting grant approvals to fund not only the buying the land, but future studies and construction work in the park, with the goal of having it eventually run by a private company under a partnership with the county.
The land was placed into a lease agreement with Jamison, at a charge of $1 a month.
Immediately after the project was reported on by the Sierra Star in February of 2016, it began to draw intense criticism from detractors and support from prospective riders.
In October that year, the park was pushed back to its beginning stages due to environmental concerns over Native American sites and potentially threatened animal species in the project’s area.
Then, in December, supervisors unanimously approved continuing the lease agreement until it increased from $1 a month to $10,000 a month at the end of June 30 this year. The board on Tuesday voted against amending the lease agreement to $1 a month, and extending it at that rate for six months.
Bruce Gray, chairman of the Madera Oversight Coalition, an opponent of the project, said the board’s vote was the correct one.
“The MOC has long been against this because how do we keep this moving forward if there’s no guarantee it will make money,” Gray said. “It doesn’t make sense to keep working on a project if you have no guarantee it will be profitable.”
Eric Fleming, the county’s chief administrative officer, confirmed the project, at least in its current form, was ended with the board’s vote on Tuesday. There are currently no plans to approach an OHV park of any kind in Madera County, he said.