Getting There: Spokane County commissioners skeptical of new ATV law
All-terrain vehicle enthusiasts are pushing to get more access to local roads, including roads in unincorporated Spokane County.
But Spokane County commissioners last week said they are initially reluctant to open county roads to ATVs, despite a new state law allowing it.
Lawmakers last spring approved ATVs on roads with speed limits of 35 mph or lower but gave control over the decision to local governments.
Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, was the prime sponsor of the bill.
The problem has been Washington’s “overly restrictive laws concerning the use of off-road vehicles and all-terrain vehicles,” Shea said in a news release when the bill passed in June.
The law was described as a compromise among ATV enthusiasts, conservationists and government.
The law sets up a licensing system for ATVs, intended to control illegal off-road use of the vehicles and prevent ATV thefts.
Licensed ATVs would need safety and other equipment, such as spark arrestors, to be allowed on regular roads.
Shea and ATV users said opening local roads to the vehicles would create tourist opportunities in rural areas where economies have been depressed over the years.
It would also create new, legal riding opportunities closer to home, said Bob Cahill, president of the Eastern Washington ATV Association.
“I think there are lots of roads that could be opened to ATVs in this county,” he said.
Cahill said he travels to other states to ride and has discovered the draw of ATVs provides economic stimulus in small communities outside of Washington.
Conservationists and landowners have been concerned over the years that some ATV riders tear up property and damage wetlands. Opening roads to legal riding also opens up opportunities to go off-road, conservationists said.
Mitch Friedman, executive director of Conservation Northwest, said the licensing requirements will create greater accountability for riders because violators can be identified through license numbers displayed on ATVs.
“It shouldn’t be everywhere,” he said of allowing ATVs on public roads, “but it should be in some places.”
Spokane County Engineer Bob Brueggeman told county commissioners last week he is opposed to opening Spokane County roads to ATVs because of damage riders might cause and because of increased maintenance that might be needed.
He said riders might go up and down ditches and embankments, causing erosion and other problems.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said the state gave itself an exemption from liability under the law but did not extend that exemption to local governments.
Cahill said he believes the concerns are overstated. ATV owners carry insurance to cover their liability, he said.
“Most people who are out there riding are very respectable people,” he said. “We are kind of self-policing.”
As an option, Cahill said, ATV enthusiasts would like to have routes designated for ATV use. The law provides that option, particularly on roads that connect ATV parks with small towns.
Riding ATVs is common in rural areas, Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said. “There are areas around Spokane County that would benefit from this,” she said.
Auditor Vicky Dalton said ATV owners are calling her licensing department to find out when they can get their new plates. She said they will become available in March.
Foot map revised
Spokane Regional Health District last week announced it has a newly revised map for walking and hiking available at the district’s website, srhd.org.
The map includes the Centennial Trail, a Cheney loop, Little Spokane River and Painted Rocks, Manito Park and Cannon Hill, a Medical Lake loop, a Riverfront Park to Gonzaga University loop and Riverside State Park.
Bridge work, more
• State highway officials said Trent Avenue will be reduced to a single lane westbound today through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the vicinity of the Sullivan Road overpass for bridge repair work.
• A great pumpkin race for Meals on Wheels will be Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Closures and traffic restrictions will be in place on Madison Street from 17th to 18th avenues and on 18th from Monroe to Jefferson streets.
• The Muscular Dystrophy Association’s “fill the boot” fundraiser will be Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Firefighters and volunteers will be using the roadway at Alberta Street and Wellesley Avenue, so drivers should use caution.
• The Centennial Trail along the Spokane Convention Center is currently closed for installation of a new sewer line. The north bank of the Spokane River offers an alternate route.
• Rehabilitation of Rockwood Boulevard should be completed within the next two weeks, city officials said.
• In Spokane Valley, Eighth Avenue just east of Wilbur Court will be closed from 7 a.m. Tuesday through Oct. 29 for utility work.
• Dishman-Mica Road just south of Appleway Boulevard will have its northbound curb lane closed today from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. for maintenance work.