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11-16-2007, 09:57 AM
http://www.statesmanexaminer.com/content/view/8174/60/

Off-road vehicle ordinance adopted for Stevens County

Sheriff expresses concern about safety

BY KIM FRLAN
SE Staff Reporter

Sixty-two roads or portions of Stevens County roads were opened to travel by four-wheelers and other off-road vehicles last week.
County Commissioners voted Nov. 5 to adopt an ordinance that’s been in the works for several months. After five public hearings on the matter involving positive testimony from off-highway vehicle (OHV) club members and negative testimony from private landowners, the commissioners were satisfied that the approved list of roads meets state criteria for off-road vehicle travel on non-highway roads owned by the county.
“The roads we approved all directly access Forest Service lands,” said Commissioner Merrill Ott. “We were trying to limit the list to roads where OHV activity already occurs, and legalize it.”
Printable maps detailing the authorized roads can be found on the Stevens County website. Go to HYPERLINK "http://www.co.stevens.wa.us" http://www.co.stevens.wa.us and click on OHV Maps and Road Description Information.
A portion of Deer Lake Mountain has also recently become an official OHV use area. The land is privately owned. Ott said he hopes other private landowners will also designate property for OHV use in the county.
“We’re coordinating with the Forest Service closely on their travel management plan. We hope to engage with the DNR. We’re trying to build a regionalized system,” Ott said. “We will continue the process into the future. Now that we have the ordinance, we can apply for grants.”
Ott said the Chewelah city council will be deciding whether they want a city OHV ordinance similar to the one in effect in Northport. That community has been open to snowmobile and other OHV traffic for six years. Under state law, Colville’s population exceeds the limit for off-road vehicle travel inside city limits.
Ott recognizes that although he believes authorizing OHV road travel will be an economic boon to the county, not everyone will be happy with the new ordinance.
“We will have some growing pains. We’ll have to make adaptive management changes,” the commissioner said.
For now, private landowners experiencing problems with OHV riders should call the county sheriff’s office for assistance.
“I would prefer we set up a system whereby landowners can call OHV association presidents with complaints,” Ott said. “The association has pledged to police their own. They are concerned about abusers ruining it for them.”
Stevens County Sheriff Craig Thayer expressed concern about public safety related to the new ordinance.
“This is an unfunded mandate,” Sheriff Thayer said. “It is a new traffic enforcement issue we haven’t had to address. We’re still trying to formulate how to enforce it. I don’t have any additional resources for additional traffic enforcement. I have put in a budget request for additional traffic safety officers.”
The sheriff stated in a phone interview that he asked the county commissioners to contact a state ORV advisory committee before voting on the ordinance. He said the commissioners indicated they had not done so prior to the Nov. 5 hearing.
“I’m not opposed to limited use as the legislature had intended. The Stevens County ordinance is more expansive than that,” Sheriff Thayer said. “I’m very concerned about the safety of the motoring public – not only ORVs, but cars and trucks on mixed-use roads.”
The new ordinance states that off-road vehicle riders traveling on county roads must comply with state law RCW 46.09. A complete copy of the law can be obtained by going to HYPERLINK "http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/" http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/ and clicking on Title 46, then 46.09.
In summary, the law states that off-road vehicles may not be operated on private land without permission of the landowner, that anyone under 13 operating an OHV must be supervised by an adult, and that the vehicles must have headlights and taillights, brakes, spark arresters, and mufflers. OHV’s may not be driven on shoulders, inside banks, or slopes next to roads. It is prohibited to create erosion, damage trees or crops, or harass livestock or wildlife. Riders must have an OHV permit and must wear a helmet and may not carry a gun or operate the vehicle while intoxicated.