By Marcy Stamper
Claiming that the Okanogan County commissioners did not consider the environmental impacts of illegal ATV riding nor the safety issues that could arise when ATVs share roads with other vehicles, two environmental organizations have appealed the matter to the Washington Court of Appeals. The appeal was filed on Tuesday (Feb. 10).
The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council and Conservation Northwest have challenged Okanogan County’s all-terrain vehicle (ATV) ordinance at several levels since the county commissioners adopted it last year, arguing that opening all county roads with speeds of 35 miles per hour or less without analyzing conditions on individual roads violates the State Environmental Policy Act.
Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Henry Rawson ruled in December that the groups’ assertions that opening these roads would damage sensitive environmental areas and lead to violations of the law are merely speculative and hypothetical.
Rawson found that state law gives the commissioners the authority to decide which county roads are suitable and appropriate to be shared with other recreationists.
The plaintiffs have argued that many of the county roads opened to ATVs have short, higher-speed sections where ATVs are prohibited, which they said would create confusion and encourage riders to disregard the law.
The commissioners’ June 2014 resolution opened 421 miles of roads to ATVs, the majority unpaved, adding to 336 miles that were already open to the vehicles.
This appeal seeks a review of the ordinance and the county’s environmental review process. The plaintiffs contend that some roads are appropriate for ATVs but that others are not.
A decision from the Court of Appeals is expected in six to eight months.