Editorials-logo-thumbRough ride

For a group that likes to manufacture headlines with its tirades about tyrannical, unresponsive government, the Okanogan County commissioners are looking a bit like the people they are always happy to rip.

The commissioners’ quickly and brusquely enacted decision to allow all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on some 300 miles of county roads has a faint odor of the backroom, public-be-damned politics that they the commissioners and their supporters angrily condemn.

Hypocritical? That’s not the worst of it. It may well be illegal, and the commissioners seem not to be all that concerned about flouting the law.

Consider how the issue even reached the commissioners. A bill that established new state rules governing ATVs, HB 1632, looked like it was dead for this year but then was attached at the last minute to the state budget package, thus emerging from the Legislature in a roundabout way. The commissioners were in such a big hurry to evade the soon-to-take-effect state law that the whole issue was crunched into a very short time frame for discussion and consideration, without much notification.

When some Methow Valley residents questioned not only the wholesale opening of county roads but also the legality of it all, the commissioners shrugged. Let the courts decide, declared Commissioner Ray Campbell – the Methow Valley’s putative representative – at a July 25 public hearing.

How about instead, you guys get it right the first time rather than setting the county up to spend taxpayer money defending your actions?

It’s not clear that the commissioners did ATV users any favors with their fast maneuvering. Given the potential for legal action, things are possibly even murkier than they were before.

The biggest fear for ATV enthusiasts is that the tiny percentage of off-road yahoos who blast right through whatever laws are in effect give everyone else a bad name. The ATV folks say they will help with enforcement. That seems like a genuine offer, but realistically, how much could they do? Law enforcement resources are already stretched too thinly over the valley, and ATV club members aren’t going to make citizen arrests.

It’s no secret that the Methow’s longstanding determination to protect its interests annoys some people on the other side of Loup Loup Pass who think we should just shut up and do what the county and the public utility district think is best for us. Just like the county shuts up and does what the state thinks is best … oh wait, they don’t do that, do they?

Lots of people worked really hard to come up with compromises that would allow ATV riders more access to public lands, while creating some assurances that the experience would be as safe and non-intrusive as possible. The commissioners’ steamroller action undercuts the public’s ability to have a reasoned discussion about how best to accommodate ATV users because now the issue is in the emotional arena and possibly the legal realm, places where civil exchanges are more difficult. And that’s unfortunate.

–Don Nelson