Sitkans are already taking advantage of the new law allowing All-Terrain Vehicles and UTVs on local roads. But the law could be changed soon- the assembly is considering prohibiting ATV and UTV rentals to operate the vehicles on roadways. (KCAW/Adam Litten)

A new law allowing All-Terrain-Vehicle use on Sitka’s streets, is already getting its first tune-up.

ATVs have been street legal in Sitka just since late February. But some assembly members were concerned that the new law left a loophole for a business to rent ATVs to tourists. So when the assembly met on Tuesday (3-22-22) it approved an amendment that would prohibit leasing or renting “all-purpose vehicles” for driving or tours.

That includes ATVs, like single-rider four-wheelers, and much beefier Utility Task Vehicles (UTVs), which allow for side-by-side riding. Mike Finn voiced his frustration with the change. He’d ordered his UTV, earlier this year. 

“It’s due here at the end of April. It cost me $35,000. It’s a six seater with full cabin heat. I had full intentions of doing tours, giving rides or doing something with it. It’s too late for me to cancel that,” Finn said. “I didn’t know this ordinance was coming. Anyway, I also want to be clear that I’m in favor of UTVs, not ATVs, being used commercially. Now, ATVs are fine for plowing snow and things like that, but I’m trying to find some common ground with the city. I think UTVs need to be allowed.”

The new rule would not apply to using an ATV or UTV for a business or employment activity when the vehicle is not “under hire” or being rented out. That means people could still drive their ATVs to and from their workplace, and businesses could use their own ATVs for things like carrying loads.

Read the full ordinance here

Assembly member Thor Christianson said he couldn’t support the amendment as written, because it limited UTV use, which he thought could be safe enough for a rental service. 

“My real problem with it is it doesn’t differentiate between an ATV, otherwise known as a 4-wheeler, cycle type, and a UTV– the mule is the term that I was always taught. Those are wildly different vehicles. I think if you can pass a driver’s test you can drive a “mule,” Christianson said. “They’re easy to drive.”  

Assembly member Rebecca Himschoot said she could consider rentals in the future, but wanted to hold off this summer, since Sitka is expecting a record-breaking cruise ship season. 

“This summer is going to be different from anything we’ve ever had, we think,” she said. “Let’s get through the summer. Let’s see how adding legal ATVs to the roads looks. And then I’m willing to come back to this and potentially consider changing it, but for right now I think I’ve gone as far as I can with just getting the ATVs on the roads.” 

The ordinance prohibiting the rental, or “hiring,” of ATVs and UTVs in Sitka narrowly passed on first reading on a 4-3 vote with Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz, and assembly members Dave Miller, and Thor Christianson opposed. It will come before the assembly again at its April 12 assembly meeting.