The Petersburg Borough Assembly Monday voted down a proposed law to allow off-highway vehicles (OHV) on local streets. That was a little over two years after voters also said no on the issue. But supporters may look to have the issue back on the ballot at some point.
The proposed ordinance would have allowed ATVs and other off-highway vehicles on borough streets, with a number of conditions. It was similar to the proposed ordinance voted down by nearly 59 percent of those turning out to the polls in 2017.
Local resident Richard Burke headed up the signature gathering effort to put the issue on the ballot that year. He told the Assembly this month that things have changed since then, including a similar ordinance passing in Wrangell.
“I understand that some of you may have reservations about allowing OHV use on our borough roads,” Burke said. “This does not have to be an all or nothing issue. If you don’t like certain parts of the ordinance I urge you to amend it. Make it better that Wrangell’s ordinance. Make it work for Petersburg. If you’re still concerned about safety then add other safety requirements to the ordinance. If you’re concerned about noise then amend the ordinance to prohibit two strokes (engines). If you’re concerned about teenagers racing up and down the streets then add language to make it easier for the police to impound a teenager’s vehicles.”
Burke and other supporters have argued the change would make parking easier in downtown and offer a lower cost mode of transportation. He had support among some on the Assembly.
“The downsides I had been told was well they’re hard to see,” said Assembly member Taylor Norheim. “Well so are people on bikes and motorcycles and they’re allowed on the roads and they’re allowed, so are diesel trucks and motorcycles. They’re allowed on the road. And the vote was close. Most of the people who had voted no really that I had spoken to, the same as was stated that they weren’t really a hard line opposed to it. Some of them were but the majority of them really weren’t, they just I guess didn’t like change as was stated. And the fact that Arizona allows ATVs everywhere even downtown Phoenix, like really? But we’re not going to, why exactly?”
The proposed ordinance would have set up a schedule of fines for infractions like impeding traffic, driving without insurance or driving without a helmet for drivers under 18. It would also have allowed the borough to charge $100 for a two-year registration sticker for Mitkof Island.
Opponents have been concerned with safety for drivers of these off-road vehicles, especially around highway cars and trucks. Other Assembly members did not agree the 2017 vote was close and were reluctant to make the change against the will of local voters.
“I share the concern of overriding a recent relatively decisive vote and so I would only be comfortable putting it on the ballot, not making the decision at the Assembly level, I don’t think that’s appropriate,” said Assembly member Chelsea Tremblay. “And so if you want to make the change to have it be something that would go on the ballot and have it be focused on that, because my also issue is not just running the same thing again and again until eventually it passes. I want it, having it be substantially different than what went to the voters before. We don’t necessarily ask them the same questions repeatedly.”
Still others on the Assembly thought the vote was no in 2017 because ATV owners didn’t want to have to register those vehicles just to plow snow during the winter time. While technically it’s illegal to plow snow using an ATV at the moment, police in Petersburg do not enforce that law. Assembly member Brandi Marohl made a motion to change the proposed law to clarify that off highway vehicles wouldn’t need a registration sticker for snow plowing. Norheim was the only other in support of that change and it failed 5-2. That was also the vote on the main motion on the ordinance in its first reading so it does not advance.
The Assembly encouraged supporters of the change to rewrite the proposal to something they thought the local electorate could support for a future ballot.