All-Terrain Vehicles are now street legal in Sitka – under strict rules adopted by the Sitka Assembly on February 22. The decision comes just two months after Sitka opted out of the new state law allowing the change. However, efforts by stakeholders to address some major safety concerns eventually won assembly approval.
In Alaska, ATVs became street legal on January 1st, but some communities initially opted out of the new regulations. The Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police published a letter in opposition to the new law citing safety concerns, and Sitka’s Police and Fire Commission followed suit, and unanimously called for the city to opt out. That was enough for some assembly members to say no to the new law, with the caveat that they would reconsider Sitka-specific ATV code in the future.
The ATV rules the assembly approved on February 22 are stricter than the state laws that went into effect at the beginning of this year. Drivers and their vehicles must meet more safety requirements – like helmets for everyone – not just passengers –and pass a mandatory police inspection of the vehicle. And they must have both city and state permits first, before taking a four-wheeler to the streets. ATV user Logan Kluting said he was initially worried about all of the additional requirements to make the vehicles street-legal.
“You know, I was a little concerned about the price of all the upgrades that we have to make on our ATVs right now,” Kluting said of the required safety standards. “But I think it’s still in the price range that you’re going to get a lot of the community out there riding on the roads with their ATVs which we’ve been wanting to do for a long time.”
Most public testimony over the last few meetings has been in support of ATVs on Sitka streets- but not everyone is totally sold. John Dole said he wasn’t against ATVs on roadways, but was still concerned about noise.
“And they’re just simply loud from 96 to 105 decibels. Now, it’s too loud, it’s not a comfortable hear them,” he said. “So all I’m asking you to think about in the future, because I’m sure no one likes loud noise.”
Assembly member Thor Christianson, who co-sponsored the ordinance with Dave Miller, said if noise turned out to be a big problem, the assembly could always revisit the ordinance and make changes. After the assembly opted out of the state law, Christianson and Miller hosted a working group in January to craft the code changes.
“I think this is a good Sitka solution. And, you know, it was…collectively come up with and it wasn’t any one person or one group,” Christianson said. “I think it’s interesting that the initial one which was put down, nobody voted for it on [the] Police and Fire [Commission], and this, everybody voted for it. So I hope this works out. And the nice thing about things like this is they’re comparatively easy to change.”
Only one assembly member voted against the ordinance. Kevin Knox had previously voiced concerns about tourists unfamiliar with Sitka operating ATVs on local roads.
“I’m going to continue working on finding a solution or a fix because I have a feeling this this probably will pass here tonight,” Knox said. “But I do still remain very concerned about a commercial operation opening up and having a lot of of vehicles running around town that have operators that aren’t necessarily the same , you know they don’t necessarily have the same level of knowledge and respect and care for our community that I would like to see people have.”
The code requires no additional certifications to operate an ATV beyond a driver’s license. Assembly member Rebecca Himschoot said there may be a need for a local ATV safety course in Sitka.
“So I hope that people who ride in Sitka are thinking about that and thinking about how to…make our community as safe as possible and make our riders safe as possible,” Himschoot said. “And maybe make writing more equitable, because people who don’t currently have access might enjoy learning how to ride.”
Ultimately the ATV rules passed on a 5-1 vote with assembly member Kevin Knox opposed.