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Okanogan County rescinds ATV ordinances

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By K.C. Mehaffey
The Wenatchee World

Mitch Friedman, executive director for Conservation Northwest, said the state law was the result of collaboration between conservationists and ATV users. “The commissioners should open their doors and listen to the hopes and concerns of people, and work together for a plan that finds the right balance for Okanogan County,” he added.


OKANOGAN — Okanogan County commissioners this week rescinded two ordinances they adopted last summer that opened hundreds of miles of county roads to all-terrain vehicles.

County officials say at least some of those roads are likely to reopen to ATVs once they evaluate possible environmental impacts.

But whether any of the 635 miles of roads with speed limits higher than 35 mph will ever reopen to ATV use is not yet determined.

The move comes just one week before an Okanogan County judge was to hear arguments over the issue. Two environmental groups — the Methow Valley Citizens Council and Conservation Northwest — sued the county, claiming it failed to conduct an environmental review of the impacts of opening the roads to ATVs.

Steve Bozarth, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor, said that review isn’t likely to change anything. “There’s a viable argument that it should have been processed through SEPA (the State Environmental Policy Act), so we’re going to go ahead and do that,” he said. “But it’s not a game changer. It’s kind of a hollow exercise in my mind, given these roads are already open to log trucks and every other vehicle.”

He added, “It’s my understanding they intend to open up as much as they can.”

Gary Allard, an ATV salesman and avid rider in Okanogan, said he has no concerns that the ordinances have been rescinded. “They’re just going to go through SEPA, which will be a piece of cake,” he said.

When asked if the county plans to reopen roads with speed limits over 35 mph following the environmental review, commissioner Jim DeTro said it’s too soon to know. He said the state Legislature is now considering adjustments to the new law, and the county will wait to see what changes are made before considering reopening roads to ATVs.

But, he said, the county did not overstep its authority in passing the ordinances.

The elitist progressive liberals in the Methow Valley have blown it way out of proportion, saying we’re always going beyond the law,” he said. “The process we did go through was absolutely the way any county could do it.” The problem was in the state’s new law, which made the 35 mph rule retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013.

The groups that sued say they just hope commissioners are receptive to finding a balance, and listen to the concerns of residents who don’t want all of their roads open to ATV use.

Melanie Rowland, a board member for the Citizens Council, said they’re pleased that the ordinances were rescinded. “We basically accomplished what we wanted to accomplish. We thought these were both in violation of the law, and now they’re off the books,” she said.

Now, she said, they’re waiting to see what commissioners do next.

Mitch Friedman, executive director for Conservation Northwest, said the state law was the result of collaboration between conservationists and ATV users. “The commissioners should open their doors and listen to the hopes and concerns of people, and work together for a plan that finds the right balance for Okanogan County,” he added.

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