ATV riders received a green light from the Union County Board of Commissioners Wednesday.
The commissioners voted to adopt an ordinance allowing people to ride all-terrain vehicles on most roads under the jurisdiction of Union County.
Passage of Ordinance 2019-01 was welcomed by many including Kevin Loveland, of La Grande, a strong supporter who said it will help draw more people to Union County.
“It will be awesome for our economy. It will boost our restaurants, fuel stations, motels and stores,” said Loveland, a La Grande businessman.
Loveland was one of at least 50 people in a packed meeting room in the Joseph Building annex at a hearing conducted before the vote.
About five people spoke in opposition to the ordinance and at least a dozen expressed their support for it.
Opponents of the ordinance included David Moyal, of La Grande, a retired physician’s assistant, who presented information indicating that the ordinance might increase the number of fatal ATV accidents occurring in Union County. He said National Transportation Safety Board statistics indicate that the majority of ATV-related fatal accidents occur on two-lane dirt roads and paved roads. Moyal said that in 2018, for example, there were 300 ATV-related fatal accidents and 59% of them were on two-lane roads.
Matt Cooper and Charlie Jones, both of La Grande, also expressed opposition to the ordinance, stating that they believe the ordinance would increase the likelihood of serious ATV accidents in the county.
Individuals speaking in support of the ordinance included Joel Hasse of La Grande. Hasse said it is important not to get too focused on risks since this would prevent the community from moving forward.
“If it were 120 years ago, we would be talking about banning cars because they would scare horses,” Hasse said.
He said that it is not logical to think a community can remove all risks.
“If we really want to make Union County safe, we should prohibit all vehicles,” Hasse said.
Doug Hislop, of La Grande, said he believes that allowing ATVs on county roads will actually boost safety in some instances. He explained the ordinance will allow people to ride their all-terrain vehicles to places like the Mount Emily Recreation Area, which has miles of ATV trails, instead of having to haul them to the site with trucks.
“I would feel much safer riding an ATV up Fox Hill Road (to MERA) than I would pulling a trailer (with an ATV) up there,” Hislop said.
Tyson Orr, of North Powder, said one advantage of ATVs is they are lighter than cars and trucks and thus cause less damage to roads.
Union County Sheriff Boyd Rasmussen also spoke at the hearing. Rasmussen said his office was not taking a stand on the ordinance, but if it passed, his office would make sure it is safely implemented. He noted that steps would have to be taken to heighten the visibility of ATVs since they are much lower to the ground than cars and trucks. Steps taken to do this may include removing bushes at curves and intersections.
Union County Sheriff’s Deputy Cody Bowen, who has patrolled MERA, was asked by the commissioners what it has been like for him since its trails opened for ATV use about five years ago. Bowen said riders on MERA’s trails have done an exceptional job of adhering to ATV regulations.
“There have been no compliance issues whatsoever,” he said.
Nine county roads will remain at least partially closed to ATV use under the new ordinance. The roads were so designated primarily because of heavy traffic. Following are the county roadways closed to ATVs:
• Hunter Road
• McAlister Road
• Ellis Road from the intersection of North Powder River Lane to Anthony Lakes Highway
• Gekeler Lane from the intersection of Pierce Road to McAlister Road
• Buchanan Lane
• portions of Palmer Junction Road
• Bowman Road
• Moses Creek Road
• Morgan Lake Road from Glass Hill Road to Morgan Lake
The Morgan Lake Road closure was added as an amendment to the ordinance at the recommendation of Commissioner Donna Beverage during Wednesday’s meeting. The commissioner said Morgan Lake Road from Glass Hill Road west needed to remain off limits because it is steep and narrow.
The ATV ordinance, first formally proposed in late June, took effect Wednesday afternoon after it was signed by all three commissioners. Union County now joins the cities of Union, Imbler and Elgin as municipalities in Union County that have ATV ordinances.