The Union County Board of Commissioners was urged to postpone adopting an ATV ordinance during a hearing Wednesday.
The ordinance would allow most of the roads administered by Union County to be used by ATV riders.
About eight people spoke at the second reading for the ordinance, all but one, Peter Barry of La Grande, spoke in support of it. Barry, who is the first person to express concerns about the ordinance at a public meeting, urged the commissioners to avoid making a hasty decision.
“Clearly this is not a time-sensitive situation, so there is no reason to rush into a decision that could have serious impacts on our communities, citizens and county,” said Barry, who believes another hearing should be conducted to allow more people with concerns to address the commission.
The board of commissioners also took input at a first reading on June 26. The commissioners first proposed the ordinance at their June 5 meeting after a public meeting was conducted by Union County officials to gauge public sentiment. The June 4 meeting was attended by about 20 people and nobody expressed opposition to it.
Barry said he has spoken to about 30 people about the proposed ordinance and all are opposed to it. He said most of those he has spoken to did not know about it, and he wants them to have an opportunity to express their worries at a hearing.
Barry said he believes the vast majority of Union County residents do not own or ride ATVs.
“Allowing ATV use on most county roads would burden the many and benefit the few that have the money and the inclination to use their recreational machines,” he said. “This proposal is designed to benefit a tiny fraction of the wealthier residents (but) the cost and impacts will be borne by everyone.”
One of Barry’s biggest concerns is that ATV riders will ride illegally on La Grande streets to get to county roads. He said that a number of ATV riders already ride illegally on city streets to get to the county’s Morgan Lake Road and then ride illegally up it, stirring up dust in the process.
“Using this Morgan Lake Road example, if this proposal were approved, we can be certain there would be more illegal town riders,” Barry said.
He also addressed safety, saying that a high percentage of serious ATV accidents occur on roads.
Barry said he is not opposed to ATVs but he does object to how the ordinance would impact the lives of people in Union County. He said that ATV riders already have plenty of places to ride, especially when one takes into account roads in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Those who spoke in support of the ordinance at Wednesday’s hearing include Kevin Loveland, a La Grande businessman. Loveland said there is strong support in the community for the ATV ordinance. He said that at the July 10-13 Elgin Stampede he spoke to 50 people, all of whom supported the proposed ordinance.
In response to the dust issue on Morgan Lake Road that Barry brought up, Art Chase of La Grande, another ATV ordinance supporter, said that cars create more dust than ATVs.
Scott Franks of Cove, a retired La Grande Police officer attending the second reading, was asked by a commissioner about the safety issue. Franks said he does not believe the ordinance would be a problem, since traffic laws are already in effect to prevent accidents.
“I have no safety concerns if they obey the rules of the road,” Franks said.
Doug Hislop of La Grande said he supports the proposed ordinance in part because it would make it possible for visitors to park their RVs at the Union County Fairgrounds in space they would rent and then ride their ATVs up Fox Hill Road to the Mount Emily Recreation Area to travel on its trails. This would be a far more convenient option for riders than hauling their ATVs to MERA.
David Thiesfeld said traffic on Morgan Lake Road would not be as bad as some people think if the proposed ordinance is approved. He believes many ATV riders going up Morgan Lake Road would go only a short way and then turn off on Glass Hill Road to get into the forest.
The commissioners agreed to conduct a third reading on the proposed ordinance on Aug. 7. The third reading will begin at 10 a.m. in the Joseph Building Annex, and public testimony will be accepted at it. The commission could vote at the third reading to adopt the ordinance.