By Marcy Stamper

The two environmental organizations that successfully sued Okanogan County to overturn two ordinances that would have allowed all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on most county roads have now appealed the county’s determination that its revised ATV proposal would have no significant environmental impacts.

The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) and Conservation Northwest appealed the environmental determination by the county’s planning director on May 28, saying that the review failed to account for the likelihood that some ATV operators ride on sensitive lands and cause resource damage, that there would be impacts on public services and law enforcement, and that there would be traffic impacts because of the additional vehicles on the roads.

Okanogan County has proposed allowing ATVs to use 597 additional miles of county roads, both paved and unpaved, with speed limits up to 35 miles per hour. There are already 336 miles of county roads open to ATV riders.

Because the county’s proposal involves existing roads already used by cars and trucks, Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston determined that there would be no additional environmental impact from allowing one more type of vehicle to use the roads.

The appellants assert that ATVs, as vehicles designed to be ridden off-road, are fundamentally different, said MVCC board member Melanie Rowland. “The County… considers only the impacts to the road itself from opening the road to ATVs,” according to the appeal. “Unfortunately, not all operators stay on the road when they are riding in a vehicle that was designed and intended for off-road use, even when off-road use is prohibited.”

The appellants include an appendix of studies they say present “overwhelming evidence” that illegal off-road riding is widespread. To be consistent with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), the county is required to take into account the potential for erosion and effects on streams and wildlife connected with illegal actions, they say.

“SEPA doesn’t say that they can’t allow the ordinance to go through, but the commissioners and the public need to know the likely consequences of their actions so that they can make an informed decision,” said Rowland.

The environmental groups also argue that having short stretches of roads open to ATVs—in the Methow Valley alone, they count three dozen road segments under two miles—will create confusion and traffic impacts.

The appeal has been filed with the Okanogan County commissioners. It asks them to require an environmental impact statement or to revise the proposal to eliminate paved roads, roads that lead to public lands, and roads with only short sections open to ATV riders. It also asks the county to post signs showing where ATVs are and are not allowed.

The county commissioners have not yet scheduled a hearing on the appeal.

The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the ATV ordinance itself for Monday, June 16, at 3 p.m. in Okanogan. People may provide up to three minutes of oral testimony and may submit written comments either at the hearing or before it, to ljohns@co.okanogan.wa.us.

For more information or a copy of the ordinance and list of roads that would be opened, contact Huston at (509) 422-7218 or phuston@co.okanogan.wa.us.