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Wasilla moves to ban off-road vehicles in city limits

Zaz Hollander
Riders on dirt bikes drive on the bike path next to Knik-Goose Bay Road in 2005. A proposed ordinance would ban the use of ATVs, snowmachines and other off-road vehicles within Wasilla city limits. Stephen Nowers / Alaska Dispatch News

WASILLA -- Wasilla is considering a ban on off-road vehicles in city limits.

The city where it’s not unusual to spot four-wheelers motoring through downtown for grocery pickups has for years allowed all-terrain vehicles and snowmachines within several main corridors, such as Knik-Goose Bay Road, the Parks Highway and Lucille Street.

But now officials here say the city's growth has outpaced its ability to allow people to zoom around even on those roadside trails. Especially on those trails, actually. KGB, as it’s called, runs through one of the fastest-growing parts of the Mat-Su Borough.

“There’s been such a sea change with the population and the complaints and the hazards, the dust kicking up along the road blinding drivers, the reckless behavior,” Wasilla Mayor Verne Rupright said this week. “It’s a growing pain. Nobody was more vehement about preserving snowmachine and off-road vehicle use than I was, but it was a much different town.”

The city planning commission will take up the issue at a meeting that starts at 6 p.m. July 8 at Wasilla City Hall on East Herning Avenue.

The commission will hold a public hearing on a resolution to recommend to the city council a ban on off-road vehicles on any trails or public rights-of-way inside city limits. The resolution states that off-road traffic has become a “safety hazard” to vehicles and pedestrians that requires a lot of police attention.

To enact the change, the city council will have to amend the city’s 1999 trails plan, a 2011 parks and trails master plan, and municipal code.

The council next meets at 6 p.m. July 28.

The 1999 trails plan -- Rupright chaired the city planning commission at the time -- created the off-road corridors to give city residents a way “to get out to the country” -- the less-developed Mat-Su Borough lands next to the city, the mayor said. But these days, the number of off-roaders and the numbers of residences and businesses has skyrocketed.

The city receives an average of 30 to 40 new driveway permits a year just on city roads, according to planner Tina Crawford. That doesn’t include borough and state roads like KGB and the Parks Highway.

Palmer already bans off-road vehicles. Anchorage banned them in the 1970s.

But Wasilla is different, opponents of the ban say. The proposal is not sitting well with Tom Hannam, who owns Alaska Toy Rental and Outfitting just off the Parks Highway -- right where KGB takes off from downtown Wasilla. He says he expects to lose $300,000 in tour business if the ban goes through.

“I’m probably going to sue the city over it,” Hannam said.

His customers are “highly irate with the mayor of Wasilla,” he said. “They can’t believe that he’s taking an old town history with trails that have been in Wasilla from almost day one ... and trying to cut into people’s fun and activity and plus part of their daily commute.”

People who can’t afford cars or don’t have a driver’s license rely on ATVs, Hannam said.

He plans to be at next week’s hearing.

The city’s proposal met with approval from the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, a Virginia-based nonprofit trade association that represents ATV manufacturers and distributors. The group “opposes the use of ATVs on any public roads,” according to a July 1 letter sent to the city from Kathy R. Van Kleeck, the group’s senior vice president for government relations.

Van Kleeck goes on to say that 92 percent of ATV-related fatalities involve behaviors the industry warns against, including operating on paved roads, children riding adult-sized ATVS, riding without a helmet or other protective safety gear, carrying passengers on single-rider machines and operating under the influence of alcohol.

In 2012, 303 ATV riders died on U.S. public roads, the letter says, and 88 percent of the riders killed on public roads were on rural roads.

Contact Zaz Hollander at zhollander@adn.com.