Proposed ordinance tabled for one year
Almost four years to the day that the Winthrop Town Council voted not allow wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs) on the town’s streets, the current council declined to revisit the issue for at least another year.
At its meeting last week, the council agreed to table for one year a proposal by former council member Vern Herrst to consider an ordinance that would allow WATVs on the town’s streets.
Council members cited uncertainty about the status of county roads that are not currently open for WATV use, but might be in the future. There currently is no practical or legal way for WATVs to enter the town on county roads or on Highway 20.
The discussion at the Sept. 5 council meeting briefly reignited an issue that was last addressed on Sept. 3, 2014, when the Town Council decided not to allow ATVs, in a 3-2 vote that was decided by then-Mayor Sue Langdalen.
Herrst had requested that the proposed WATV ordinance be placed on the council’s agenda for discussion. Herrst said the proposed ordinance was modeled after ordinances in other jurisdictions and conforms with state law. The proposal included restrictions on how WATVs could be operated within the town limits.
Herrst said that Winthrop’s WATV ban could be off-putting to some potential visitors, and harmful to the town’s tourism economy. Addressing the argument that some WATV drivers ignore traffic rules and are potentially dangerous, Herrst said the same could be said for any vehicles that use town streets.
Herrst challenge council members to consider whether the WATV ban is serving the bests interests or if they were simply “kowtowing to environmental fanatics.” Most other towns in Okanogan County allow WATVs and they don’t cause problems, he said.
Mayor Sally Ranzau asked how allowing WATVs would benefit the quality of life for the town’s 400 residents. “How does it benefit the citizens we work for?” she asked.
Herrst replied that he and other residents could use the vehicles to plow driveways, among other things.
WATV advocates in the audience said that WATV traffic in other county towns is barely noticeable.
Council member Ben Nelson said he wants to see more evidence that WATV traffic would be helpful to the local economy. He pointed out that if there were as few WATVs in town as advocates predict, it won’t help the economy much — whereas an influx of enough WATV riders to boost the economy might be objectionable to residents.
Council member Bill McAdow said that while most WATV riders are responsible, he worries about the handful who are not.
Ranzau said that WATVs are not referenced in the town’s comprehensive plan, and the plan would likely need to be amended to accommodate the vehicles. She also noted that WATVs were never brought up as part of the public discussion of the Winthrop in Motion plan for improved mobility in town.
Council member Kirsten Vanderhalf, who said she owns two WATVs, said she doesn’t think now is the time to reconsider WATVs.
The council unanimously adopted Nelson’s motion to table consideration for a year.
The Town of Twisp does not currently allow ATVs on its streets.
The Okanogan County commissioners have been reviewing roads, primarily in the Okanogan Valley, that may be opened to WATVs. After opening all 35-mph roads to the vehicles a few years ago, the commissioners had to close them to evaluate individual roads for suitability because of a lawsuit by the Methow Valley Citizens Council and Conservation Northwest. Ultimately, the commissioners reopened 365 miles, primarily in northeastern Okanogan County. The majority of the routes currently under consideration are in District 1, from Omak to Brewster, but the list may include roads west of the Loup Loup summit. A review of roads in District 2, which includes the Methow Valley, will come next.