Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Snowmobile ruckus rides to compromise

Express Staff Writer

A packed house gathered at Bellevue City Hall after the city council recently announced plans to take a hard line of enforcement regarding snowmobiles use within city limits.

"This is the third year in a row I have seen offensive behavior by snowmobiles," Council President Eric Allen stated. "It is just getting worse and worse."

A suggestion by the council to potentially revoke all snowmobile privileges within the city arose after a group of concerned citizens brought attention to safety, noise and pollution problems generated by snowmobile use in the city. The suggestion generated considerable response from the snowmobile community at the Thursday, Jan. 27 meeting. Discussions during the meeting led to a request for an informal committee to find ways to better enforce current regulations and to revisit the matter at a later meeting.

Mayor John Barton opened the meeting, stating the discussion before the council was "brought about by several complaints regarding snowmobile use over the last few weeks."

"I don't think it's all snowmobilers...There is a small majority that is making it tough," Allen added.

After the council opened the discussion to the public, several members of the snowmobile community addressed the concerns and offered to help the city educate others about the rules of the road.

"It's definitely a privilege. I would hate to see the snowmobile community lose this privilege because of a few bad apples," Carl Browning, president of the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club, said.

The sentiments expressed by members of the snowmobile club and other riders in attendance, echoed respect for the law, concern for violators and a desire to preserve existing riding privileges within city limits. Martin Chandler, owner of Guffy's, submitted an informal petition with 148 signatures in support of keeping Bellevue streets open to snow machine traffic.

The current law permits snowmobiles on city streets only to access snowmobile recreation areas outside of the city, not for general transportation in the city. Riders must use Pine and Cottonwood streets as the access routes to riding areas outside the city limits. No machines are allowed on state Highway 75, in parks or on the bike path. Riders must hold a valid driver license and not exceed 10 miles per hour.

"It is about safe operation. It is about prudent operation," Bellevue Marshall Randy Tremble said.

After the recent concerns, Tremble indicated his force has increased contact with snowmobile riders, to address reckless operation of the vehicles, the number of children operating the vehicles and the use of the vehicles in city parks and on the bike path. The city included a letter in water bill envelopes to inform operators of the existing city snowmobile ordinance.

"All offenders will be cited, there will be no more chats," Tremble stated.

Those in attendance committed to educate other riders by policing fellow riders and volunteering to distribute posters, handouts and signage. Suggestions were also made to address the issue in fall, before the riding season.

The mayor expressed concern over the consequence the city could bear as the result of an accident and the lack of representation from those raising the concerns.

"I take a much harder line because I don't feel a few people who can afford (snowmobiles) should impede on the quality of life," Barton said.

Dialogue between the city and the community prompted the mayor to ask for an informal committee to discuss a strategy to help enforce regulations in the city.

The matter is tentatively scheduled for further council consideration at the Feb. 24 meeting.

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