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Ban on off-road vehicles passes Wasilla Planning Commission

By Kate McPherson Photojournalist: Andy Nitchman - 7:10 AM July 9, 2014

Off-road vehicles are one step closer to being illegal in Wasilla after the Planning Commission voted to ban them.

Following a public hearing on Tuesday night, four of the five commissioners voted in favor of the resolution to prohibit the use of off-road vehicles, including ATVs, dirt bikes and snow machines. Commissioner Loren Means cast the only opposing vote.

The matter now goes before City Council on July 28. Mayor Verne Rupright is reluctantly in support of the ban.

“If people would just use the trails that have been on that books for 15 years we wouldn’t be here discussing this,” the mayor said during the public hearing.

Rupright helped to establish the 1999 Trails Plan that allows off-road vehicles to travel in city limits. These corridors include Lucille Street, Knik-Goose Bay Road and the Parks Highway.

“There seems to be a belief that you can ride anywhere,” said Rupright, who believes an outright ban is the only way forward for the city because too many people are breaking the laws and not sticking to the designated trails.

But it’s a contentious issue because many valley residents use the Wasilla trails to get around town.

“Wasilla is in a rural area so there’s a lot of people who don’t have a vehicle that drives on the highway,” said Thomas Hannan of Alaska Toy Rentals.

Hannan’s business includes ATV tours that leave from his Wasilla shop. If the ban becomes law, he says he’ll lose money.

Todd Ferguson at House of Power says his business won’t be directly impacted, but he knows residents who will have a hard time

“Fifty percent of our customers use their ATVs locally in the city limits to get to work,” Ferguson said.

Wasilla police have received 248 complaints in two years from residents. But many opponents of the ban say it’s a small number of people doing the wrong thing and making everyone else look bad.

“Everyone is pretty upset about it,” said local Lee Pomelow. “Everyone wants to get out riding, get out and have fun, I thought that’s what Alaska was all about when I moved up here.”

Opponents of the ban say they would like to see other options explored before making the use of off-road vehicles illegal. Suggestions include better trail signage and educating children about the laws at a young age. More intense policing of unruly users was also suggested as a solution.

But some residents question whether police can handle the workload and enforcement.

“I’m tired of the noise, I’m tired of the lack of respect that people have for property that they ride over and tear up,” said local Roy West during his testimony Tuesday night.

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