Benton County to hold public hearings on opening some roads to ATVs

Tri-City HeraldMay 13, 2014 

Benton County commissioners plan to hold a pair of public hearings to gather input on the possibility of opening some county roads to all-terrain vehicles.

The hearings likely will be held in the evening, with one in Prosser and another in Kennewick.

Commissioners on Tuesday asked county staff to work on scheduling.

Commissioner Shon Small last month raised the idea of taking advantage of a new state law to allow ATVs on some lower-speed county roads. He has said doing so could bring more opportunities for family-oriented recreation and help farmers who use the vehicles in their work.

Prosser recently approved opening some city roads to ATVs, and Small said he’s heard from county residents who want a similar change.

In a brief discussion Tuesday, commissioners agreed to hold hearings to gauge community members’ feelings.

They didn’t get into the merits or drawbacks of opening up some roads to ATVs, although Commissioner Jim Beaver, chairman of the board, said he has safety concerns. He said he’s open to the hearings.

The state law, passed in 2013, created greater identification requirements for ATVs and set out equipment safety standards, while also increasing ATV access to some rural roads.

In counties with fewer than 15,000 people, four-wheeled ATVs are allowed on 35 mph-or-less public roads under the law, unless officials deem the roads unsuitable.

The bigger counties, such as Benton County, can choose to open up public roads, and so can cities and towns.

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. Proponents also have touted economic benefits, saying greater access will keep ATVers and their spending in the state.

Prosser’s ATV ordinance allows the vehicles on 35 mph-or-less city roads. Drivers must be 21 or older.

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

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