By Marcy Stamper
The appeal claiming that the Okanogan County commissioners did not consider the environmental impacts of illegal all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding nor the safety issues that could arise when ATVs share roads with other vehicles will be heard in the Washington Court of Appeals in Spokane on Thursday (Dec. 10).
The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council and Conservation Northwest appealed a December 2014 decision by Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Henry Rawson 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.
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. The plaintiffs argue 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.
Attorneys for Okanogan County say that the groups have not shown any harm from the commissioners’ action nor the operation of ATVs on the roads in question. The belief that a claimant’s interest “might be injured” at some point in the future is not sufficient, they argue.
The county’s attorneys say that the plaintiffs claim that the environment, in general, might be harmed, but do not point to specific locations in Okanogan County.
Attorneys for the county also argue that the commissioners have the legislative authority to open the roads to ATVs, and that their action was consistent with the purpose of a state law — to allow ATVs additional access to certain roads.
The plaintiffs counter that the record submitted to the court shows that the county commissioners substantially increased the risk of illegal and damaging ATV use by opening roads that lead to sensitive environmental areas and wildlife habitat. The county was obligated to analyze these potential impacts in its environmental review, they say.