New ATV law sparks North/South county divide

By KAYLA CAMENZIND


The ordinance, written by the Washington State Legislature, would not allow ATVs in Ilwaco, in any other cities that choose to prohibit them, or on numbered state highways with the exception of a highway segment under 35 mph within the limits of a city that has adopted the ordinance.

The state has outlined regulations regarding the use of ATVs, including that riders must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver’s license, wear a DOT approved helmet, and operate by the rules of the road. ATVs may not be registered or commercial use (personal use registration only), must be registered with the DOL (both on road and off road tags) and display proper documentation at all times.

Operators must carry: 1) documentation of a safety inspection completed by a licensed ATV dealer or repair shop (a one-time inspection), 2) documentation that the inspection cost less than $50, and 3) a signed document that releases Washington State from liability.

The ATV must be equipped with a headlamp, one tail lamp, one stop lamp, turn signals to be used at night, one mirror attached to either handlebar, a windshield (or the rider must wear goggles), a horn, working breaks, a spark arrester and a muffling device.

At the hearing in South Bend on June 24, all in attendance were in favor of adopting the ordinance. As Raymond and South Bend currently allow ATVs on roads with limits under 35 mph, many claimed allowing them on county roads would make transportation much easier. A petition with over 300 signatures of those in favor of the ordinance was previously submitted to the commissioners.

An issue brought up by the commissioners is the county’s potential liability. The ordinance releases Washington State from liability, but does not give individual counties the power to include a clause releasing them from liability.

It’s a far more contentious county in South County,” Commissioner Steve Rogers said. The commissioners discussed creating a county line between the north and the south, allowing them in North County.

At the meeting in Long Beach on June 25, discontent about the bill was expressed to the commissioners.

As one of the most contentious issues, several South County residents questioned if ATVs would be allowed on the beach. The environmental well-being of the beach and the peace and tranquility it offers to tourists and residents were cited as reasons to keep ATVs off the beach.

Only street legal vehicles are allowed on the beach, explained Commissioner Frank Wolfe. The commissioners did not have an answer to if ATVs would be “street legal” after the adoption of the ordinance, but according to a county worker in attendance the state is abdicating their authority on the beach to the county.

A second controversial issue was the question of enforcement. Responsibility of enforcement will fall upon the Sheriff’s Office, which already operates on tight resources.

Seaview resident Susie Dawson voiced her opposition to the ordinance: “I’m listening to this, and I can’t think of one redeeming value to have these down here. . . I mean law enforcement apparently doesn't have the facilities to stop people if they’re doing something wrong on these. Our streets, we don’t have any stop signs on K Place and motorcycles and cars go up there fast as it is. We have children, dogs, tourists; we don’t need ATVs mixing up the mix.”

Many attendees insinuated that they were concerned that the new ordinance would result in streets filling up with ATVs, causing disruption. George Hill of Ocean Park, in favor of the new laws, addressed this concern: “Right now there are only 500 legally licensed vehicles in the State of Washington. . . You’re concerned about people down here licensing all their quads and dirt bikes, but I will be willing to bet you 90% of the quads down here will never be licensed because they don’t have titles, registration, or the means or the money to do it. The majority of things that you’re seeing out here, running around illegally, won’t be on the road legally, they’ll still be running around illegally.”

Commission Wolfe explained that other counties have had issues since passing the ordinance. Okanogan County is being sued after someone died in an ATV accident. “They were actually driving on a private road and flipped onto a county road,” Wolfe said. “There’s also another county that enacted the ordinance without doing a SEPA (State Environmental Policy Act) and was made to rescind the ordinance until they got their SEPA done.”

The commissioners explained that they have the power to “cherry pick” certain roads or areas where ATVs would not be legal.

If this is passed and you allow traffic on some streets and not on others, that sounds very nice, but the people that are driving these vehicles, how are they going to know what’s legal and what isn’t? And how are you going to enforce it?” Seaview resident Richard Dawson said in response.

Commissioner Lisa Ayers explained, “The only obligation that the county has for posting is on the county’s website, which streets are open and closed. That’s all that’s in the law at this point.”