County Council makes a U-turn on allowing ATVs on some public roads

Negative reaction to the proposed rule change prompted the council to table the idea for now

CLARK COUNTY — A plan to allow wheeled All-Terrain Vehicles (WATVs) on some public roads in Clark County fell apart this week after the people who’d pushed for the rule change failed to show up and defend it.

The change was first considered six months ago, after a number of people spoke out during a public comment period in front of the Clark County Council, saying there was a need to allow wheeled ATVs on some public roads, usually to get from one part of their farm to another more quickly and easily, or make a short trip.

The Clark County Council has tabled a proposed rule that would have allowed ATVs on some public roads. Stock photo
The Clark County Council has tabled a proposed rule that would have allowed ATVs on some public roads. Stock photo

A state law, adopted in 2013, allows counties to pass a law permitting ATVs on paved roads with posted speed limits under 35 mph. Clark County currently has no law on the books specifically pertaining to the use of ATVs on county roads.

Under the proposed law, ATV operators on public roads would need to have a valid driver’s license, as well as current insurance.

The ordinance was modeled after similar regulations already in place in Cowlitz, Thurston, and Lewis Counties.

However, during a public comment period on the proposed rule change held during the council’s meeting on Tuesday, nearly a dozen people submitted written testimony and all were opposed to the idea.

“Adding WATVs to the mix only adds to the potential for accidents and injuries to residents and drivers,” wrote John Erickson. “Not to mention the noise WATVs produce.”

“People ride ATVs and motorcycles up and down paved county roads terrorizing everyone with the loud noise,” wrote another resident. “And this is while currently not permitted in areas that have 25 mile per hour posted limits.”

The primary concern voiced by members of the council was the lack of a delineation between streets in the rural and urban areas of the county, and the potential for hazards created by ATV riders.

“The mindset for an ATV is fun, speed and adrenaline,” wrote Kathleen Young. “They do not have the proper safety features and driver protections needed in emergencies such as collisions. This is a really bad idea.”

“I think that we initially saw this as kind of a no-brainer easy thing to do out in the rural community,” added Councilor Gary Medvigy. “But we’ve only heard the negative today and some of them were good points.”

“I think it makes sense in the rural area,” said Councilor John Blom. “But when you’re looking at allowing ATVs to cruise through Hazel Dell, Felida and Salmon Creek, I have some concerns about that.”

The state law would have allowed the county to ban ATVs on some roads, even those with posted speed limits under 35 mph. It also requires the county to post a map online of which roads allow the all-terrain vehicles.

Medvigy said he would like to see staff make adjustments to the rule, to restrict access only to public streets outside of the urban growth boundary. But other council members said it is worthwhile to note that the very people who asked for the rule change failed to show up to defend it.

“If they want to cruise on their property and go from pasture to pasture, that’s fine. That’s already allowed,” Blom said. “But I don’t think, given the number of other issues that we have to deal with, I just don’t see this being the most valuable use of staff’s time.”

Councilor Temple Lentz agreed, noting that the council could come back at a later date to address “specific needs” in the rural community with regards to ATVs. 

“But, right now, it seems like we’re trying to craft a policy for a theoretical need,” she added, “because we haven’t really heard from the folks who want it.”

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to table the rule change indefinitely, at least until constituents who support the idea return with a more compelling reason that it is needed.