EVERETT — Some roadways around the city of Sultan are opening to street-legal all-terrain vehicles through a pilot program approved by the Snohomish County Council.
Supporters talked up potential tourism benefits. Opponents fretted about getting sued if someone gets hurt, and about the risk of polluting nearby Spada Lake, the region’s largest source of drinking water.
“I thought a pilot program was a great compromise and a great start,” said Councilman Sam Low, who sponsored the program. “If this goes well over the next two years, we’d definitely like to see it expanded to areas around other cities.”
Over objections, the minimum age was set at 16, rather than 21 as some council members preferred.
All of the roads in the pilot program have speed limits of 35 mph or less. A 2013 state law gives cities and counties the authority to designate certain roadways for use by licensed, street-legal ATVs with features such as a horns, headlights and brake lights. People need to have a valid driver’s license to use them on public roads.
Around Washington, 17 other counties already permit ATVs on some roads. The cities of Sultan, Granite Falls and Stanwood allow them. Monroe and possibly other local cities are considering a similar move.
The county’s new pilot program includes 22 miles of roadway.
It covers stretches along Sultan Basin Road and Kellogg Lake Road. Trout Farm Road and Reiner Road, from Sultan city limits to Lake Chaplain Road, also are included.
Public works officials picked roads with less traffic and lower average speeds.
On Sultan Basin Road, riders will not be allowed past the point where the roadway turns from pavement to gravel, about three miles from the end. The route was shortened to keep people farther from Spada Lake, the source of drinking water for much of the region. The water supply also generates hydropower for the Snohomish County PUD.
“We want to make sure that people are using our recreation area responsibly, respectfully and with a good environmental conscience,” said Brad Spangler, a senior manager for power generation at the PUD. “If they follow the rules, we will not have any problems.”
A major concern is that motor oil and other fluids could leak into the water supply.
Under a sunset clause, the pilot program will expire two years from its effective date unless the council extends it.
Ted Jackson, an ATV rider who owns property in Gold Bar and has lobbied for the pilot program, said he’s happy to see it in the works. He only wishes a larger area was covered. Jackson is confident that in a couple of years, the ATV community will demonstrate that the program deserves to be expanded.
“Our interest is to have lawful and environmentally friendly recreation,” he said.
The ordinance passed with support from Council Chairman Brian Sullivan and Councilman Nate Nehring.
Councilman Terry Ryan and Councilwoman Stephanie Wright voted no.
“People love to sue government,” Ryan said. “And even when you go into something with the best of intentions, somebody gets hurt, they sue the county and we’re in a really tough spot. When we settle lawsuits, that comes out of taxpayer dollars. And I’ve never had a resident ever say, ‘Please spend my tax dollars on settling lawsuits.’”
His hesitation grew after the city of Everett and the PUD raised concerns about water quality at Spada Lake, though the sunset date and shortened route on Sultan Basin Roads appeared to allay some of those fears.
The law authorizing the pilot area will take effect 10 days after County Executive Dave Somers signs it. A director in Somers’ office says the executive hopes to sign it soon.