Assembly approves local ATV road rules on first reading

By | October 21, 2023
Assembly approves local ATV road rules on first reading

All-Terrain Vehicles may become street legal in Sitka after all. When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (2-8-22), it approved on first reading new city code for ATV use on roads, just weeks after the Assembly opted out of a new state law allowing them. 

The breakthrough came from the efforts of an informal stakeholder group convened by assembly members Thor Christianson and Dave Miller. The group hammered out some Sitka-specific rules about ATV use, and won the unanimous support of the Police and Fire Commission – which had opposed the original state law as written.

The new code will conform to state traffic laws, requiring ATVs meet certain safety standards, and legal drivers over 16 must obtain a state permit. But Sitka’s language goes beyond that, requiring a local permitting process and police inspection of the vehicle. 

Assembly member Crystal Duncan said she would support the ordinance, but she still had some concerns about safety. Duncan works for the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. She said she dug into the organization’s “injury prevention program” and found guidance on ATV use that gave her pause.

“And I looked at the description and they said, ‘When possible ride on unpaved roads, the ATV’s tires are not made for paved or loose gravel roads– you could lose control,’” Duncan said. “So my concern in December was safety. I just need a refresher on how going at speeds of 45 miles per hour, knowing that they were sort of built for off-road, how we’re addressing that safety issue?”

Assembly Member Thor Christianson said he thought the problem would be “self correcting.” 

“Anybody who drives primarily on the street is going to get new tires. For starters, they’re going to rip up their off-road tires, guys who drive a lot, ride a lot, let me know,” Christianson said. “That pavement is going to destroy those tires, I think, pretty quickly…We talked about requiring street tires…I realized we didn’t really address it directly in the ordinance, but it was definitely discussed…and decided that it was just too onerous of a requirement.”

Assembly member Kevin Knox expressed concerns about the new rules opening up opportunities for a business to start an ATV tour operation on Sitka’s roadways, and he suggested they amend the rule to only allow residents ATV permits. Municipal attorney Brian Hanson said that could present constitutional challenges. Assembly member Kevin Mosher agreed with Knox’s concerns – but he gave the measure his support nonetheless.

“I don’t like the idea of if somebody set up a business and you have tourists running around in town,” Mosher said. “That doesn’t give me warm-fuzzies to be honest with you, because I agree, I don’t think that all the tourists are going to have the same respect that, say, this ATV community has. So it’s something we want to want to keep our eye out if possible. But I’m going to vote yes for this.”

Sitka’s new ATV code passed by a unanimous vote on first reading with no amendments, and will come before the Assembly again at its February 22 meeting. Read the ordinance here.