By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners will hold a July 9 public hearing on an ordinance that would increase the penalty for illegal operation of wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs) to $500 on a county road not open to the vehicles, and to $1,000 in a posted environmentally sensitive area.
The penalty is a moving infraction, similar to a speeding ticket.
State law requires counties to post a list of roads open to WATVs on its website. Okanogan County intends to erect signs declaring it off-limits to operate a WATV in designated critical areas, including wetlands, meadows and other fragile areas, but not on all the routes, according to Okanogan County Engineer Josh Thomson.
The county had initially considered putting signs on all roads open to WATVs, but road engineers have found that too much signage ends up being ignored, said Thomson.
Moreover, there is little standardization for signage for WATVs. Wheeled ATVs are relatively new, created by a 2013 state law. By adding safety features like lights and mirrors, people can obtain a special WATV registration that allows them to ride WATVs on designated roads. Eligible roads have a maximum speed limit of 35-miles per hour (mph) and have to be opened to WATVs by local jurisdictions.
There is no approved symbol for WATVs (as opposed to off-road vehicles, or ORVs), so any signs would need to spell out the entire name, said Thomson. Complicating matters further is the requirement that lettering on signs on 35-mph roads be 4 inches high, so any signs would be at least a couple of feet across, said Thomson.
“We still plan to sign critical areas,” particularly where there are a lot of riders, said Thomson. “We’d also sign attractive and available sites that are environmentally sensitive, to get the word out.” Thomson said he doesn’t know how many signs will be required in all.
The proposed ordinance would apply in unincorporated areas of the county. Cities and towns have separate jurisdiction. The majority of the WATV routes are in District 3, in northeastern Okanogan County. The ordinance requires riders to carry a list of open roads.
The public hearing is at 3 p.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan. People can provide up to 5 minutes of verbal testimony or submit written comments at the hearing in advance to Laleña Johns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about the proposed penalties, contact Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.at (509) 422-7218 or email@example.com.
Documents regarding the proposal are available online at www.okanogancounty.org/planning.
More ATV routes
The county commissioners have begun reviewing roads in District 1 — Omak and southeastern Okanogan County — for suitability for WATVs, as well as some roads in the portion of District 2 east of the Loup. District 2 includes the Methow Valley, but the major review of roads in the Methow will come after the District 1 routes have been established, said Huston.
Watson Draw Road is not currently under consideration because it connects with the Methow Valley, said Thomson.
The commissioners met with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and the state Department of Natural Resources this week about the proposed routes.
The Forest Service was concerned about allowing ATVs to use Paradise Hill Road, which goes north from Brewster toward the South Summit, because the South Summit Road is not open to ATVs. WDFW expressed concerns about two roads, also near Brewster, that lead only to state land, said Thomson.
A map of the proposed routes is available on the county’s website at www.okanogancounty.org by following the link for “County Roads Open for Off-Road Vehicles (ORV)” and then scrolling down toward the bottom of the page.