Despite some reservations, the Monroe City Council has decided to pilot an ordinance allowing use of wheeled all-terrain vehicles on city streets.

Jeff Rasmussen cast the only dissenting vote at last Tuesday’s meeting. The group has been debating the issue since fall. He said in that time his decision has swayed both ways.

“At the end of the day, I just don’t have anything compelling enough to go one way or another, and so I have to go with the gut on this one, and I just, it’s tough, but the gut is telling me no on this,” he said.

Rasmussen said he was almost persuaded when he learned the idea for allowing WATVs in Monroe was part of an overall plan to create a route that drivers could take from Western Washington to Oregon. He said he is a cyclist and understands that desire to have access to connecting trails.

The adopted ordinance requires anyone operating a WATV to have a valid driver’s license and proof of liability insurance. Councilmember John Scarboro said the latter is what he needed to feel comfortable supporting the ordinance.

“We want there to be responsibility for actions,” he said.

The vehicles can only drive on roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, excluding State Route 522, according to council documents. Each WATV must have headlights, tail lamps, stop reflectors, turn signals, mirrors and a horn, among other equipment. Motorcycle helmets must be worn unless the vehicle has seatbelts and roll bars or an enclosed passenger compartment.

Last summer resident Amy Bleam asked the City of Monroe to start “a fair and open ordinance process.” Discussions began in October.

Sultan and Skykomish already allow ATV use, according to the Washington ATV Association. 

Bleam argued the vehicles are safe and regulated — that was largely the purpose of adopting policy into Washington code in 2013. A coalition of rural city managers, environmentalists, law enforcement and other groups worked together for years to lobby and support passage of the bill. Monroe’s Premier Polaris co-owner Linda Driscoll was a part of those efforts.

The state policy ensures more accountability and protections from WATVs being used destructively, according to Conservation Northwest. The Department of Natural Resources estimates between 3,000-6,000 miles of trail have been illegally created by riders, or three to six times the legal amount.

Advocates believe the WATV community can help boost local economies through lodging, restaurants and gas stations, where certain roadways are opened to use. They also argue WATVs are fuel-efficient and low-impact.

Monroe Police Chief Tim Quenzer, who retired last Monday, was immediately opposed. He was concerned about the dangers of interactions between WATVs and dump trucks, which have a bad history of collisions with small vehicles, especially in Monroe’s roundabouts. He also believes they have the potential of impeding traffic flow.

“I urge you not to go forward with this idea; we have nice trails, parks that currently do not suffer from abuse from WATVs, so why invite it in?” he said at last month’s meeting. “When this bill was proposed to the state Legislature, it was offered as a way to reduce ATV abuse and provide accountability for the misuse of the ATVs. We do not, nor do I recall ever having those issues within the city of Monroe.”

Washington cities may decide if WATVs can be operated on local roads. They have flexibility in adopting specific regulations, such as a minimum age limit above 16 years. The WATVs are mostly confined to streets with a 35 mph speed limit or less, except on state highways.

Councilmember Patsy Cudaback said public input was influential during the six-month process. Councilmember Kevin Hanford said community members brought in valuable research.

“I really want to thank you and encourage other people, when other issues come up that they are passionate about, to come before council and speak because it does make a difference, and it does help us make better decisions when we hear the input,” Cudaback said.

Councilmember Jason Gamble, who has disclosed he owns a side-by-side, supported the idea from the start. He said he is excited to see what will come of the new ordinance.

Councilmember Jim Kamp said he still had some reservations, but was also looking forward to how the law plays out in Monroe. Scarboro said he would not like to see the new WATV law abused.

“I hope that you will help us make sure that doesn’t happen, so that we can feel proud about the fact that we agreed to this and let it go forward and not disappointed,” Scarboro said.

The law goes into effect Wednesday, May 9, according to the ordinance.