A matter of opinions


Of all the questions and observations to come out of last week’s Twisp Town Council hearing about the advisability of allowing all-terrain vehicles on town streets, this is the most compelling:

Why the rush?

Many people I’ve heard from don’t see a need for Twisp to do anything for now other than what the council did at its meeting – table the issue – until another key jurisdiction acts.

Twisp is not a destination for the ATV riders. It’s a pass-through. And the county roads the ATV enthusiasts want to use are just a means to an end: the U.S. Forest Service roads where ATVers can do what they really want to do, which is recreate in the wilderness.

I haven’t heard many people object to that, nor have I heard anything negative about the North Central ATV Club, the organization that is asking for access to town roads. (Winthrop earlier rejected a similar request, to some extent because it seemed premature to council members there.)

But until the Forest Service considers and decides on requests to use certain of its roads, it seems a bit early to push through town approval. The Forest Service has its own process, which is detailed and deliberate. The ATV riders are hoping to build access links to the Forest Service roads – which makes sense – if those roads become available. You can’t fault them for working on several fronts simultaneously, to be ready for that day.

At last week’s well-attended council meeting, the hurry-up pressure to act by some council members was alarming to quite a few observers (as we have heard in the past week). But what really surprised many people at the meeting was the seemingly cavalier dismissal by council member Clay Hill of the cumulative public opinion expressed on the topic.

Despite substantial expressed opposition to allowing ATVs in town – both verbally at the meeting and in written comments submitted to the council – Hill said he basically would not give the public’s input overmuch weight. The reason? Because there are people who did not express their opinion who are not represented.

This poses a tautological absurdity: We didn’t hear from who we didn’t hear from. From which follows a syllogistic absurdity: Therefore, the people we heard from don’t matter all that much.

It’s not sitting well with the public. People are calling me, coming in to see me, stopping me on the street, writing letters to the editor, all about the same thing: Hill’s perceived indifference to what people took the time to write and say in public. In comments to the News this week, Hill seemed no more inclined to act based solely on popular opinion.

Clay can certainly speak for himself (and I’m sure he will). I’ve spent time with him and find him likable, energetic, smart and articulate. He isn’t afraid to express and defend his beliefs. He works hard on town business, most notably in negotiating a service contract with Okanogan County Fire District 6.

People can agree or disagree with his arguments that Twisp should act first to, literally, pave the way, and that the town will benefit economically by allowing ATVs. I don’t doubt that Hill is acting in what he believes is the best long-term interests of Twisp. But I’m not sure he’s doing himself any political favors on the popularity front.

Does that matter? I suppose we’ll find out. The discussion’s not over, and Twisp may well end up taking a pro-ATV stance if a majority of the council agrees – even if a majority of the public seems not to.