Benton County might be allowed to let ATVs on some roads

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldApril 15, 2014 

Benton County might take advantage of a new state law and allow ATVs on some of its roads.

County commissioners Tuesday asked the county attorney to do some research and bring back more information at a future session.

Commissioner Shon Small first raised the idea of allowing all-terrain vehicles on county roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less at a commissioner meeting last week.

He said it could bring more opportunities for family-oriented recreation. And he's heard from many residents who want the change.

"I was elected to be the voice of the people, and this is what they want," he told the Herald.

The state law, passed last year, created greater identification requirements for ATVs and set out equipment safety standards, while also increasing ATV access to some rural roads.

In the state's smallest counties -- with fewer than 15,000 people -- four-wheeled ATVs are allowed on lower speed public roads, unless the roads are deemed by officials to be unsuitable.

In the bigger counties, such as Benton County, officials can choose to open up public roads. The same goes for cities and towns.

Prosser recently took that step, with the city council approving an ordinance similar to one enacted in East Wenatchee. (Prosser's ordinance increased the minimum age for ATV drivers on city roads to 21 years old).

The state law is meant to increase recreation opportunities, cut down on off-roading that hurts the environment and raise money for signage, education, maintenance and enforcement. It also aims to enhance rural economies.

State Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said having more places to ride will keep ATVers -- and their spending -- in the state. "It really opened up a lot of possibilities," he said of the new law.

Dan Denchel, owner of Desert Valley Powersports in Prosser, said he also sees pluses to more ATV access in Benton County. "It will give local residents who normally would travel outside our area to utilize their products the chance to (ride here) and spend dollars locally," he said.

Denchel, who spoke to commissioners last week about greater ATV access, said he's willing to help with a community education campaign.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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