By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
As simple as it was in one city, it is vastly complicated in another.
The cities of Sultan and Gold Bar held independent discussions at recent council meetings on how to move forward in response to Washington State’s new WATV law, which expands access for wheeled all-terrain vehicles.
Sultan quickly embraced the new law. Gold Bar remains deeply divided.
The bill, known as HB 1632 – 2013-14, allows ATV riders in counties with fewer than 15,000 residents immediate access to roads 35 miles-per-hour or less. In the more populated counties, it is up to local jurisdictions to draft their own ordinances either allowing or disallowing ATV usage on city streets.
Not only is it up to city municipalities to draft ordinances which apply to their city streets, but counties also need to draft ordinances applicable to county roads that do not fall inside of city limits.
The purpose the new WATV law is to enhance economic development and promote economic gain throughout the state.
Locally, some hope that the law will facilitate convenient access to city services for the folks who come to the valley to recreate, easing their ability to travel from ATV trails to restaurants, gas stations and other businesses.
But some Gold Bar residents and business owners don’t see the economic value in allowing ATVs on their city streets. There is also concern regarding allowing ATVs to utilize U.S. 2, a notoriously troublesome highway.
Gold Bar councilmember Lee Hodo stated that in a recent survey, most of the Gold Bar business owners he consulted with were against it.
“They didn’t want anything to do with it,” said Hodo. “I had one business that was in favor of it.”
Prospector’s Plus Owner Chris Brawn is in favor of allowing WATV usage on the city streets in Gold Bar, and was concerned with Councilman Hodo’s perception that the business owners in Gold Bar are against the concept.
“I’d like to know which ones, because we weren’t approached,” said Brawn. “Most of the businesses that I know here are all for it, so I’m not sure where you’re getting your information.”
Prospector’s Plus, located on U.S. 2 in Gold Bar, is a model for the type of business local chambers of commerce are hoping to attract to the valley; recreation-based businesses that also delve into the manufacturing side of the industry. In fact, business leaders from Everett to Stevens Pass hope to eventually get the state to designate the entire region an Innovative Partnership Zone for recreational equipment manufacturing.
Prospector’s Plus manufactures mining gear, including their own custom gold pans known as the Brawn Two-in-One.
Brawn stated that he supports ATV usage on city streets because he has witnessed it working well in other communities, and that ATVs, contrary to popular perception, are not the noise-nuisance that many people seem to think.
“I’ve seen what this has done to other towns and it’s fantastic,” said Brawn. “They’re so much quieter than a motorcycle.”
Councilmember Davi Martin attended a recent noise demonstration held in Sultan, which provided attendees with the opportunity to listen to WATVs in comparison to other motorized vehicles.
“They had several motorcycles there,” said Martin. “The ATVs were much quieter than the motorcycles. The ATVs were not that much louder than my car.”
Martin suggested that people’s opinions were being clouded by the fact that they might have the wrong idea about what type of vehicles the bill is referring to.
“We’re talking about a bigger machine that’s got a muffler and all the safety equipment on it,” said Martin.
One of the complicating factors in Gold Bar is the issue that a portion of May Creek Road, specifically the portion east of Ley Road where it adjoins to Reiter Road, is outside the city limits and as such, a county road not applicable to city ordinance.
The Reiter Foothills area features an extensive ORV trail system, but until the county adopts an ordinance in support of ORV usage, access into Gold Bar from that particular section of May Creek Road would not be possible.
“It’s my understanding the county isn’t even considering allowing these vehicles on that road,” said Gold Bar resident Susan Forbes. “It’s kind of a moot point isn’t it? Why are we wasting our time?”
Snohomish County has not yet drafted their ordinance stipulating WATV usage, and it is unclear as to when they plan to either allow or disallow ORV usage on county roads.
Other citizens feel that the city should be seeking the opinion of Gold Bar residents and not only business owners.
“It is not fair that the local residents that actually live on the impacted roads should suffer for out-of-town business interests,” said resident Chuck Lie, who lives on the in-city-limits portion of May Creek Road.
No decision was made in Gold Bar as far as ATV usage, and the direction, as of yet, is unclear.
“We’ve been working on this since February,” said Gold Bar Mayor Joe Beavers. “One thing I’ve learned is, don’t expect anything to happen quickly.”
Brawn expressed frustration and pointed out that May Creek Road was only one street in the city’s network of roadways. There is nothing stopping the city from adopting an ordinance permitting ORV access on the other streets.
“I thought we were supposed to be the leaders in recreation,” said Brawn. “The Sky Valley is supposed to be a recreation community. Why are we not capitalizing on this?”
Gold Bar resident Steve Bush supports allowing ATVs on city streets and is collecting signatures in an effort to petition the City Council to allow him and other local ATV riders legalized riding for one day. His goal is to demonstrate that passing the ordinance will not equate disruption and noisy conditions in the city.
“I don’t know how successful this is going to be, but I’m just trying to raise attention,” said Bush.
Bush said that he would like council to grant temporary ATV access, even if only for a few hours, so that local ATV enthusiasts can ride the streets and stop in at local businesses. Bush feels that the demonstration could give citizens a better-informed idea of what the ordinance is trying to do, and will help dispel the idea that ATVs are excessively noisy.
He also feels that the county might be more inclined to pass their ordinance if the city were a little further along in the process.
“We’d probably have a little more luck with the county if we had our streets opened up,” said Bush.
Bush will be collecting signatures all week and hopes to be able to get on council’s agenda on Tuesday Dec. 3.
The city of Sultan brought the same item for discussion on Oct. 24. The response was favorable, although Councilmember Jeffrey Beeler was concerned about allowing WATVs access to all city roads and felt that there should be restrictions.
“I don’t want them on all the streets,” said Beeler. “I just have an issue with them being on every road.”
The ordinance was drafted in response to council’s majority determinations, granting WATV access on all city streets in Sultan with a speed limit of 35 miles-per-hour or less. The ordinance was presented on Nov. 7, passing with barely a hiccup.
“This is the item as discussed,” said Sultan City Administrator Ken Walker. “We are not excluding any of the streets that are 35 miles-an-hour or slower.”
The vote was six-to-one in favor, with Councilmember Beeler dissenting due to the lack of guidelines designating particular roads as being off-limits to ATVs.