By Ann McCreary

An ordinance opening more than 420 miles of roads in Okanogan County to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) was approved Monday (June 23) by the Okanogan County Commission.

Commissioners also approved a resolution denying an appeal from two environmental organizations challenging the county’s determination that allowing ATVs on those roads would have no significant environmental impacts.

The ordinance adopted by the commissioners was revised to remove 149 miles of roads on the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Tribal law restricts ATV use to tribal members and their relatives, and the Colvilles opposed including roads on the reservation in the ATV ordinance.

Commissioners last week heard an appeal from the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Conservation Northwest, arguing that the county failed to meet State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requirements by not considering the “reasonable probability” that allowing more access to ATVs would result in more than moderate environmental impacts.

County Planning Director Perry Huston concluded that because the roads being opened to ATV travel are used by cars and trucks, there would be no significant impact from allowing ATVs on them as well.

Appellants argued that because ATVs are intended for off-road use, they are likely to leave the roadway and cause environmental damage in areas not open to ATVs. They cited studies to back their contention that illegal off-road ATV riding is widespread, and called on the county to conduct an environmental impact statement or eliminate roads that provide access to public lands or roads not suitable for ATVs.

After an administrative hearing on the appeal last week, commissioners said they were satisfied that the county had met the requirements for SEPA review, and said the appeal was based on speculation about potential impacts.

If the environmental groups choose to challenge the ordinance, they would need to file a lawsuit in Okanogan County Superior Court, said Melanie Rowland, an attorney who represented MVCC and Conservation Northwest in their appeal.

Commissioners also heard around 15 people speak both for and against the ATV ordinance during a public hearing last week.

The revised ordinance approved this week by the commissioners includes about 421 miles of county roads with speed limits of 35 miles per hour or lower where ATVs can now legally travel, said Verlene Hughes, senior engineer/technician for Okanogan Public Works. The towns of Winthrop and Twisp currently do not allow ATVs on streets in town limits.

A list of the roads included in the ordinance and a map will be posted shortly on the Okanogan County website, Hughes said.