A new law allowing the use of all-terrain vehicles on the streets of Sitka is already in its first stages.
ATVs have been street legal in Sitka since late February. But some members of the assembly feared the new law would leave a loophole for a company to rent mountain bikes to tourists. So when the assembly convened on Tuesday (3/22/22), it approved an amendment that would ban the leasing or rental of “all-purpose vehicles” for driving or sightseeing.
This includes ATVs, like single-rider four-wheelers, and much beefier utility vehicles (UTVs), which allow side-by-side driving. Mike Finn expressed his frustration with the change. He had ordered his UTV earlier this year.
“It is planned here at the end of April. It cost me $35,000. It is a six-seater with integral heating in the cabin. I fully intended to tour, ride or do something with it. It’s too late for me to call this off,” Finn said. “I had no idea this order was coming. Anyway, I also want to make it clear that I am in favor of commercial use of UTVs, not ATVs. Now ATVs are fine for clearing snow and things like that, but I’m trying to find common ground with the city. I think UTVs should be allowed.
The new rule would be does not apply to the use of an ATV or UTV for business or professional activity when the vehicle is not “rented” or leased. This means people can still ride their ATVs to and from work, and businesses can use their own ATVs for things like hauling loads.
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Assemblyman Thor Christianson said he couldn’t support the amendment as written because it restricted the use of UTVs, which he said might be safe enough for a rental service.
“My real problem with it is that it doesn’t tell the difference between an ATV, otherwise known as a 4 wheeler, cycle type, and a UTV – mule is the term I was given always taught. They are very different vehicles. I think if you can pass a driving test, you can drive a “mule,” Christianson said. “They are easy to drive.”
Assemblyman Rebecca Himschoot said she may consider rentals in the future but would like to wait until the summer as Sitka expects a record cruising season.
“This summer is going to be unlike anything we’ve ever had, we think,” she said. “Let’s get through the summer. Let’s see what adding legal ATVs to the roads looks like. And then I’m willing to come back to that and possibly consider changing it, but for now I think I’ve gotten as far as I can just put the ATVs on the roads.
The ordinance banning the rental or “rental” of ATVs and UTVs in Sitka narrowly passed first reading in a 4-3 vote with Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz, and Assemblymen Dave Miller and Thor Christianson objected. He will return to the assembly at its meeting on April 12.