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Unalaska City Council debates loosening all-purpose vehicle restrictions

Unalaska.JPG
Hope McKenney
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KUCB
Unalaska currently prohibits the use of all-purpose vehicles — like four-wheelers and all-terrain vehicles — on city streets. But a state law that went into effect this year opens the door to allow use of these modes of transport on public roads, so the city is debating if they want to make it possible on the island, too.

The Unalaska City Council debated allowing all-purpose vehicles on the street at its meeting Tuesday night.

Unalaska currently prohibits the use of all-purpose vehicles — like four-wheelers and all-terrain vehicles — on city streets. But a state law that went into effect this year opens the door to allow use of these modes of transport on public roads, so the city is debating if they want to make it possible on the island, too.

Police Chief Jay King gave a presentation at City Hall that highlighted the dangers of allowing all-purpose vehicles on the road. He read a letter from the Alaska Association of Chiefs of Police, which said the state law “disregards the obvious hazard” of allowing them on the street.

“[Loosening regulations] is going to raise the potential of having more frequent accidents. And I think that had a direct impact on the reason the City Council first drafted their prohibition against the use of those types of vehicles on the roadway,” King said.

King went over emergency room data, accident reports, and fatalities caused by all-purpose vehicles. A 2007 report from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, an independent federal regulatory agency, said 65% of ATV deaths occurred on roads, and that those deaths increased 284% between 1998 and 2007.

King also noted that these vehicles are designed for off-road use, and many manufacturers expressly warn against their use on paved ones.

He listed several benefits of allowing these vehicles on roadways, namely that they are less expensive to purchase and maintain than a typical car. That would make transportation more available to lower-income residents.

Council member Thomas Bell said Unalaska should not be compared to other cities in the state. Many local roads are gravel, which he said is conducive to off-road vehicles. He also said the state law limits all-purpose vehicle speeds to 45 mph. Since the island’s greatest speed limit is below that, he said accidents should remain low.

“The highest speed limit in this town is 30 mph,” Bell said. “You can ride a bicycle almost that fast. And the risk of a collision with a vehicle is, I believe, no different than that of a motorcycle.”

Council members Daneen Looby and Darin Nicholson sided with Bell. But Council member Bong Tungul sided with Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson in agreeing there’s too much danger. He said he doesn’t support allowing the vehicles given the fact that manufacturers warn against using them on roads.

“I used to sell those ATVs when I worked at Carl’s [Commercial], and boy, we got a lot of accidents. We completely stopped selling them,” Tungul said.

Denise Rankin, the interim president of the Ounalashka Corp., Unalaska’s Native village corporation, spoke out against loosening restrictions on all-purpose vehicles. She said they used to allow them around the island and it caused a lot of damage to the environment.

“We are concerned about having more off-road vehicles on the road system,” she said. “We already have a problem with off-roading on our property. Tundra is hard to regrow, and we are concerned, as the largest landowner in Unalaska, that more people would off-road because they will be closer to our property — a lot of our property is adjacent to the main road.”

Robinson said rather than continuing to debate, councilors should put the issue to a vote and “let the chips lay where they fall."

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