OLIVER, B.C. Most county roads on the Colville Indian Reservation are being removed from the list of roads on which ATVs will be allowed, but otherwise the commissioners are going ahead with plans to open up all roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less.
Commissioners spent several hours Monday listening to testimony in three hearings concerning ATV use.
They had proposed to open all county roads – paved and unpaved – to the machines’ use under a law passed last winter by the Legislature.
Planning Director Perry Huston issued a determination of non-significant impact for allowing ATVs on roads with 35 mph or lower speed limits, but the Colville Confederated Tribes and two environmental groups disagreed and appealed.
In a morning hearing, the tribe presented its arguments, but ultimately withdrew its appeal of the determination. Instead, tribal officials asked for reservation roads to be removed from the plan, to which commissioners agreed.
Monday afternoon’s first hearing was for an appeal filed by the Methow Valley Citizens Council and Conservation Northwest.
They took issue with allowing roads to be open and argued roads should be evaluated individually. They also asked for a full environmental impact statement, rather than the environmental checklist used.
Attorney Melanie Rowland, arguing for the environmental groups, said the county “failed to do even the most basic analysis on impacts, safety factors, impacts on emergency services and the budget.”
With almost 600 miles of roads are on the list, “you simply chose to open all roads of 35 mph or less.”
She argued that opening the roads will allow ATV riders access to environmentally sensitive areas where a certain number of them are likely to ride off road and damage those areas.
Even if the same percentage of riders goes off road in such areas as do now, there likely will be more ATVs in general and thus more off-road riders, she said.
Huston said the roads already are open to other licensed vehicles, so allowing state-licensed and compliant ATVs won’t change anything.
“There will be increased opportunities for legal ATV use,” he said.
The county’s proposal is “being true to the intent” of the state law, he said.
Huston and Rowland agreed that the county’s environmental checklist was done properly in terms of legal notice and steps taken, but Rowland said the county didn’t really didn’t do an adequate analysis of the proposal.
“We’re contesting whether the purpose of SEPA was fulfilled,” she said.
She presented commissioners with folders of information citing industry, environmental and medical groups saying ATVs can harm the environment and are not safe to ride on paved roads. Included were several statements from Methow Valley residents telling of their encounters with ATVs on private property and in sensitive areas.
The commissioners should evaluate roads on whether they will access environmentally sensitive areas, Rowland said.
“We ask (that) those roads not be included. Don’t tempt the riders,” she said. “Just making it illegal (to go off road) doesn’t work. It was a sweeping proposal with no regard to where those roads led.”
At the end of the hearing, Commissioner Jim DeTro said, “We need to come back to reality. We go through these processes all the time.”
He said the SEPA process was followed and he found Rowland’s arguments full of speculative, arbitrary and hypothetical arguments.
Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy agreed and moved the commissioners deny the appeal. DeTro and Commission Chairman Ray Campbell agreed.
The day’s third hearing was on the proposed road-opening ordinance. Commissioners heard from more than a dozen people. Some urged all roads be open, others asked for a rewritten ordinance and some said they opposed opening any roads.
“I’m opposed to ATVs (on roads) under any circumstances, Twisp resident Richard Tingelstad said, adding that people don’t need to drive ATVs if they’re going to stay on roads.
Robin Stice, owner of Eden Valley Guest Ranch near Chesaw, suggested the commissioners pass the ordinance but monitor it.
“If there’s a problem, we’ll see it in a few months,” she said.
“I don’t believe the ATV clubs are the culprits,” said Maggie Coon, Twisp. “But only a fraction of riders belong.”
She said she doesn’t oppose all ATV use on roads, but is concerned about the safety of riding them on pavement. She urged commissioners to redraft the ordinance.
Jim Soriano, who lives in Tunk Valley, said he raises cattle and is concerned about ATVs going off road. He said he’s had several near misses already with ATVs as he drives hay on back roads, and urged commissioners to make sure ATV riders have insurance.
DeTro said the ordinance does require ATV riders to have insurance.
“I support the ordinance,” said Bill Ford of Twisp. “I’d like to see more roads (included). I support lowering speed limits to allow ATVs.”
Commissioners continued the hearing to 3 p.m. next Monday and directed Huston to remove all roads on the reservation except for the portion of Rodeo Trail Road that was previously open, the rural portion of Oak Street and Appleway to the Okanogan Bingo Casino. Armory Junction Road between Rodeo Trail Road and U.S. Highway 97, and Cameron Lake Road from U.S. Highway 97 to the Okanogan Truck and Tractor entrance.