The Okanogan County commissioners are holding a public hearing on Monday (Nov. 13) to consider an ordinance that would open 368 miles of county roads in District 3, which includes Omak, Tonasket and Oroville, to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

An environmental review of the proposal by Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston found that letting ATV riders travel on these roads carries the potential for “significant adverse environmental impacts.” Those impacts include possible damage to critical areas such as wetlands, sensitive plant species, or highly erodible areas if riders leave the roadway and ride illegally in these areas.

The commissioners are considering several provisions to mitigate against damage from illegal riding, including signs informing riders that they must remain on the roadway and signs identifying specific critical areas adjacent to the road.

The commissioners are also considering an ordinance that would specifically outlaw illegal operation of ATVs and impose extra fines for illegal off-road use.

The commissioners will consult with state and federal land-management agencies and the public about enforcement concerns. They also plan to conduct an annual review of the routes and any impacts to critical areas, to be completed by March of each year.

The review of roads in District 3 comes after the commissioners had to rescind previous ordinances that opened all county roads of 35 miles per hour or below to ATV. They repealed those ordinances after a judge ruled that the county was required to first consider conditions on the roads and the potential for environmental harm.

Based on public input in the new process to identify suitable ATV routes, the commissioners removed from the proposal any roads adjacent or leading to sensitive areas.

The public hearing is at 3:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan. People can provide up to five minutes of verbal testimony. They can submit written comments at the hearing or in advance to Laleña Johns at ljohns@co.okanogan.wa.us.

Relevant documents and maps are available on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning. For more information, contact County Engineer Josh Thomson at (509) 422-7300 or jthomson@co.okanogan.wa.us.