New list includes environmental analysis

By Marcy Stamper

Okanogan County has prepared a new ordinance and a list of 597 miles of roads that the county proposes to open to ATVs, and issued an analysis of potential environmental impacts. The new proposal replaces two ordinances that were rescinded in March.

The proposed all-terrain vehicle (ATV) routes follow existing county roads with various surfaces, from gravel to asphalt to chip-seal, according to the environmental checklist prepared by Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston. The roads have speed limits of 35 miles per hour (mph) or lower. Huston has determined that allowing ATVs to use the roads would have no significant environmental impact under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

The need to put expanded ATV routes through an environmental review was one of the reasons the county commissioners repealed the previous ordinances, which were adopted last July. Two environmental organizations sued the county over the ordinances, contending that they were in violation of state law because the roads were opened without an analysis of specific safety or traffic conditions.

Because the proposed ordinance would affect only existing county roadways, Huston’s checklist found that there would be no new environmental impacts as a result of the change. The questionnaire asks about new construction or ground disturbance, effects on wildlife migration, discharges into groundwater, and noise levels, among other possible impacts.

Huston wrote that the number of average daily trips on the roads is not anticipated to increase enough to affect overall noise from vehicles. The checklist says the county does not know how many vehicle trips are likely to be generated by the expanded access.

The proposal is not expected to create any new energy requirements, environmental health hazards or a need for additional public services. Because the roads are already open to motor vehicles, the county does not anticipate an increase in automobile odors or dust.

About one-quarter of the roads—165 miles—are already paved and there will be no new pavement as a result of the proposal.

The roads cross existing migration routes, and the county provided a mule-deer migration map as part of the materials used in the evaluation. The number of average daily trips is not anticipated to increase enough to cause a significant increase in animal-vehicle collisions, Huston concluded.

Short distances

A detailed list of roads supplied with the county’s proposal includes segments of county roads in the Methow Valley with speed limits below 35 mph. Access on some roads would be limited to short distances between certain mileposts. For example, West Chewuch Road would be open from milepost 0 to 0.31, and East Chewuch Road from 0.702 to 0.915. On Twisp River Road, ATVs would be permitted from milepost 0.5 to 0.697 and, on Patterson Lake Road, from milepost 4.41 to 5.251.

Some roads in the Methow would be accessible for longer stretches, such as Balky Hill Road, where ATVs could ride for 4.6 miles, and Benson Creek Road, which would offer a 3.1-mile stretch to riders.

The roads proposed for ATV use cover about half of the total 1,266 miles of roads currently managed by the county. The county already has 336 miles of roads open to ATV use, according to the county’s documents.

Most of the county’s existing ATV routes are near Okanogan, Conconully, Loomis and Chesaw. There are currently no county roads in the Methow Valley open to ATVs, nor near Brewster or Pateros.

Roads with speed limits above 35 mph that the county commissioners opened to ATVs in a second ordinance also adopted last July are not included in the new proposal. The environmental groups’ lawsuit charged that the state law does not permit the county to authorize ATV use on roads with a speed limit above 35 mph. Higher-speed routes that were already open to ATVs before the July 2013 law was passed remain open to the vehicles.

For more information and a list of affected roads, or to comment on the proposal, contact Huston at (509) 422-7218, or phuston@co.okanogan.wa.us. Comments must be received by 5 p.m. on May 2.

After reviewing the comments, the county will issue a final environmental determination and schedule a public hearing before the county commissioners. If adopted, the ordinance will be effective immediately.