Potential for property damage, illegal riding cited
By Marcy Stamper
Four roads – a total of 11.4 miles – in the Tunk Valley that were opened to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in November may be closed again because of a “high likelihood of illegal ridership which can cause damage to private property and critical areas,” according to a proposed amendment to the ordinance adopted by the Okanogan County commissioners five weeks ago.
After receiving additional input from neighboring landowners, the county commissioners determined that the added expense of signage and enforcement patrol in the area isn’t commensurate with the benefits to ATV riders, according to the environmental review of the proposed changes. The roads don’t connect with any other ATV routes and lead only to private property, it says.
The roads are all in the Tunk Valley, in commissioner District 3, the first district where roads were reopened to ATVs after a review of their suitability for ATVs and of potential impacts to environmentally sensitive areas.
If the changes are approved, the roads that would be closed to ATVs are Knox Road, Knox Road Extension, Ed Figlenski Road, and J.H. Green Road. Two of the roads are connected and the other two are in close proximity but don’t intersect. The roads would remain open to all other vehicles.
There would still be more than 350 miles of routes for wheeled ATV riders in the northern part of the county.
After adopting the ordinance in November, the commissioners heard from people who were concerned about wildlife habitat near these roads, said Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hadn’t raised these concerns earlier in the road review, so it wasn’t on their radar, he said.
The commissioners consulted maps and took input from the public and ATV rider groups before opening the roads in District 3, but have since learned that areas near these four roads provide habitat for sharp-tailed grouse, mule deer and golden eagles, all endangered or threatened species, said Hover.
Commissioner Chris Branch personally looked at the roads and determined they are short sections that don’t connect with any other routes, said Hover.
After a successful lawsuit filed by the Methow Valley Citizens Council and Conservation Northwest, the commissioners had to rescind ordinances from 2014 that had opened all county roads of 35 miles per hour (mph) or lower to ATVs and conduct a thorough environmental review before reopening any roads. State law allows counties to open 35-mph roads to wheeled ATVs, a special class that includes safety features like lights and mirrors.
The commissioners started with District 3 and will review potential ATV routes in Districts 1 and 2 as time and staffing permit. The Methow Valley is in District 2.
Additional information is available from Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston at (509) 422-7218. Documents regarding the proposal are on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning.
There will be a public hearing on the amendment, but the date hasn’t been set.
People can comment on the proposed changes until Jan. 12 to Roxanna King at firstname.lastname@example.org.