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Proposal allowing all-purpose vehicles on Unalaska roads stopped in its tracks

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Courtesy of Tacho
Unalaska’s City Council has been debating for several months whether to allow the use of all-purpose vehicles on the island, and members of the community have made public comments both in support and in opposition.

A city proposal to allow all-purpose vehicles on Unalaska’s streets failed to move forward Tuesday. The Unalaska City Council voted against allowing the ordinance to proceed to its next meeting.

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 these modes of transport on public roads in places not prohibited by local law or ordinance.

Unalaska’s City Council has been debating for several months whether to allow their use on the island, and members of the community have made public comments both in support and in opposition.

Two community members spoke in support of allowing their use on Tuesday.

Travis Swangel has been riding motorcycles on the island for 25 years. He said by voting “no,” councilors will be robbing Unalaskans from a benefit enjoyed by other communities.

“I think the bulk of the community is responsible enough to enjoy this in a respectful manner,” Swangel said. “People are expected to play by the rules, and I think most people will.”

Denise Rankin, president of Unalaska’s Native village corporation, read a statement from its board and management.

She said the Ounalashka Corp. does not support ATV use on state and city roads because of the possibility of increased damage to the land, injury to other land users and noise pollution.

“Did you know that Unalaska is the envy of other communities whose hills, valleys and mountains are scarred with offroading tracks and hiking trails full of deep ruts?” Rankin said. “Exploring what other Aleutian communities have done to discourage offroading, we have learned that Unalaska is one of the unique communities and embraces a zero-tolerance policy towards offroading. It’s a policy we choose because we respect the land and peoples’ safety.”

A majority vote among the city’s six council members was required to move the ordinance forward. But since two were absent from Tuesday’s meeting, just one “no” vote from the group of four present would stop it in its tracks.

Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson said he was on the council when they passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of offroad vehicles in the late 1980s. He said there’s too much danger.

“I understand that some people are responsible, but we have to make rules and regulations for the people that least have the ability to protect themselves,” he said.

The ordinance ultimately failed to move forward in a 2-2 vote. Robinson and councilor Thom Bell both voted against moving the proposal to a second reading on April 12.

Related Content
  • 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.
  • A federal appeals court last week reversed a decision that had impeded construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. The proposed road would stretch 11 miles through the wildlife refuge on the Alaska Peninsula, connecting the communities of King Cove and Cold Bay. The project has been held up in the courts since 2020, when a judge blocked a land exchange necessary for the road’s construction. But the court decided last Wednesday to reverse that judge’s decision that prevented the swap between King Cove’s Native corporation and the federal government. Supporters of the road say it will save lives. The small airport in King Cove is closed due to weather around 100 days a year, on average. Advocates say connecting King Cove to the much larger airport in Cold Bay would make emergency medical care more accessible for residents of the small community in the Aleutians East Borough.
  • The Unalaska Public Library is getting a face-lift. The city council voted 4-2 at Tuesday night’s meeting in favor of expanding the library, a project that had stalled out after its initial approval nearly two years ago. The Library Expansion Project was initially adopted in Jan. 2020, but the plan was scrapped because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was picked up again the next year, and the city received bids in November. The lowest one came in at around $6.5 million dollars, a bit lower than the original estimate.