WINCHESTER BAY — Residents of Winchester Bay voiced concerns Monday about noise, traffic safety and lowered property values if ATV traffic moves off the dunes and into town.
More than 100 people packed the Marina Activity Center at Winchester RV Resort Monday for what was billed as an open house, but turned into a town hall style meeting over the county government’s proposal to allow ATVs on county roads downtown.
The meeting was led by Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice, who heard from community residents, business owners and fire officials, along with ATV riders and DuneFest organizers.
Some who spoke Monday suggested revisions to the plan, such as limiting the hours from the proposed 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to starting later and finishing earlier. Others suggested limiting town access to utility terrain vehicles, or UTVs, two- and four-seat side-by-side vehicles, which are larger and more car-like than other ATVs.
Boice said most other types of ATVs wouldn’t be brought into town anyway, since smaller vehicles riding on the dunes generally have paddle tires that would be damaged on pavement.
Boice said it was really the community’s decision to make.
“When we were asked if this was something we would be interested in, what we hoped would happen was that you guys as a community would have an opinion about this that would be solidly one way or another, that you would recognize that this was really your decision to make. It’s for your community. Our hope is it would make Winchester Bay a destination point for people who are going to come in here and spend lots of money,” he said.
Even with the suggested changes, though, the majority remained opposed when Boice asked for a show of hands.
Business owners who spoke Monday gave mixed reviews of the plan. The owner of a local motel said her business would benefit, but Mark Bedard of Bedrock’s Pizzeria said he would oppose the plan even if it brought his business more money.
“Nobody would profit more than me, but I am not the type of person that wants to put a Benjamin Franklin ahead of quality of life issues for my neighbors, for my community,” Bedard said.
Tatiana Resetnikov said she believes most residents would not have moved to Winchester Bay if the ordinance was already in place. She questioned the motives behind the proposal and said she wanted to bring a class action lawsuit to oppose it.
“No one’s asking us, the people who moved here for the quiet fishing village atmosphere that we have,” she said.
Fire officials spoke out against the plan, saying it would endanger community residents and first responders.
Eric Boe, president of the Winchester Bay Rural Fire Protection District Board, said allowing ATVs would directly impact his property values, and that the suggested 93 decibel noise limit is higher than the 85 decibel level above which hearing protection is needed.
Boe also said for safety rules to be effective, there would have to be effective enforcement. He said he doesn’t think that’s possible, and that there is an element of lawlessness among ATVers.
Winchester Bay Fire Chief Scott Anderson said having ATVs on the roadway scares the heck out of him, and that keeping ATVs and cars separate is key to safety.
“I can tell you that the present separation that we have between the ATVs and the roadway, where they run down the trails, they run out onto the dunes, has worked,” he said. “I went back over our records and I do not see a significant incident, even though there have been some close calls.”
Lakeside Mayor James Edwards told The News-Review after the meeting that a similar proposal was being considered in his town, but that most of the about 50 people who turned out for a town hall there were in favor of the idea. He said they believed the change would raise their property values.
Erik Benson, who helps organize DuneFest, said the noise wouldn’t be any worse than that of having motorcycles in town. Benson also said it would be good for business, and that it could keep the community from dying. And he suggested that there’s already a move statewide toward making side-by-sides street legal, so the two sides should find a way to work together.
ATV enthusiast Michelle Phelps objected to the negative characterization of ATVers, especially those who drive UTVs.
“When somebody purchases a $20,000 to $30,000 UTV and takes it over here, they’re not a lawless crowd,” she said.