Union County is a big step closer to allowing ATVs to be driven on most of its roads.

The Union County Board of Commissioners approved a first reading of an ordinance Wednesday that would allow ATVs to be used on the majority of the roads administered by the county.

“It will add to the livability of the area,” said Commissioner Paul Anderes.

Wednesday’s first reading was conducted after a hearing at which four people spoke, all of whom are supporters of the proposed ordinance.

“This will do nothing but help the economy,” said Kevin Loveland of La Grande, referring to the increase in tourism he believes the ordinance would help promote.

Loveland said that if more counties, cities and government agencies in the region begin opening their roads to ATVs, there is a chance Northeast Oregon could become like the Moab, Utah, area, where it is possible to drive ATVs for many miles because roads where ATV use is allowed are connected.

“Eventually, if we get all of the communities we need together, we will prosper because of the tourism,” Loveland said.

Ray Clements of Union County also spoke in support of the ordinance.

“It is such a cool way to see beautiful country,” he said.

David Thiesfeld of La Grande said that while there may be some people who will ride irresponsibly on county roads, they should not be allowed to ruin it for the many more who will drive with caution. He noted that interstate freeways are not closed because some people drive while under the influence of intoxicants. The misdeeds of a few should not result in many more losing their privileges.

The roadways that would remain off limits to ATV use under the proposed ordinance would be Hunter Road, McAlister Road, Ellis Road from the intersection of North Powder River Lane to the Anthony Lakes Highway, Gekeler Lane from the intersection of Pierce Road to McAlister Road, Buchanan Lane, portions of Palmer Junction Road, Bowman Road and Moses Creek Road.

Most of these roads would remain off limits to ATVs because of the existing speed and volume of car and truck traffic.

Union County would join a growing number of areas where restrictions on ATV use are being lifted, including Baker, Umatilla and Grant counties. Presently in Union County, Union and Elgin are the only cities that have ordinances allowing ATV use on most of their roads.

The ordinance would not have any impact on how ATVs are used now for agricultural work, Anderes said.

A second hearing on the ordinance will be conducted July 17. Should the second reading be approved, the new ordinance would take effect immediately. The public will again be able to comment on the ordinance at the hearing, which will begin at 10 a.m. at the Joseph Building Annex.

In other action items at Wednesday’s meeting, the Union County Board of Commissioners ratified a three-year contract for employees who are part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union. About 20 employees are members of the federation, including those who were working in the accounting, planning, assessor and county clerk offices.

Terms of the contract call for the employees to receive a 2.5% wage increase in 2019-20 and pay boosts the next two years based upon increases in the Consumer Price Index.

The agreement also calls for a new sixth step to be added to the AFSCME employees’ salary schedule. The sixth step, to be added during the second year of the contract, would make it possible for employees at the top of the salary schedule to receive a step increase. All employees receive annual step increases until they reach the top of their salary schedule. The step increases are 5%.

Anderes said adding the sixth step is a good way of rewarding employees for loyalty and longevity.

The new contract also boosts the number of days the employees will receive for bereavement leave from two to three.