County can petition Supreme Court to take case

By Marcy Stamper

Okanogan County’s environmental analysis of the impact of allowing all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to use almost 600 miles of county roads will not get a re-hearing by the state Court of Appeals, which last week declined the county’s request to reconsider its June ruling.

The court also rejected a request by the plaintiffs, the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) and Conservation Northwest, to formally publish its lengthy opinion. Publication would have allowed attorneys and judges to cite it as precedent in other cases concerning application of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).

Okanogan County’s request for the court to reconsider the decision was based on technical and procedural grounds. The county argued that the case should have been brought under the state’s land-use law, not its environmental statute. The county also claimed that the case was not heard in the proper jurisdiction.

The motion for reconsideration did not specifically challenge the decision by the three-judge panel that the county’s environmental analysis had not been adequate.

MVCC and Conservation Northwest had argued that, when the county opened roads to ATVs in 2014, it should have done a detailed analysis of the potential environmental impact of allowing the vehicles to use the roads. They said that allowing the vehicles to use all roads under 35 miles per hour (mph) without regard for specific conditions violated SEPA.

The plaintiffs contended that the county should have taken into account the effect of letting the vehicles travel on roads where only a short segment was under 35 mph, as well as the potential for ATV riders to leave the roadway and ride on sensitive environmental areas like wetlands and meadows.

In its environmental analysis, the county said that the ordinance allowing the ATVs to travel on the roadways did not create any new roads and that the plaintiffs had not provided specific examples of environmental damage.

A 2013 state law allows local jurisdictions to permit a special class of ATVs with safety upgrades to use roads with speed limits up to 35 mph.

A three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals in Spokane ruled in June that SEPA requires the county to assess potential impacts on the environment, including on water, air quality, and wildlife habitat. The court ordered county officials to prepare an environmental checklist that includes a complete disclosure and review of relevant information if the county wants to adopt another ordinance allowing ATVs to travel on county roads.

The plaintiffs filed the appeal after Okanogan County Superior Court upheld the adequacy of the county’s 2014 environmental analysis.

The county has 30 days from the Aug. 11 ruling on reconsideration to ask the state Supreme Court to review the case. The high court has the discretion to accept or deny review of cases.

The roads remain open to ATVs until a final order is issued by the court.