As volunteer crews and the Inyo County Road Department work to implement the pilot Adventure Trails system in Southern Inyo, two out-of-the-area environmental groups have taken legal action to stop the project in its tracks.
The Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a lawsuit this week in which they claim county leaders did not adequately address environmental concerns.
“Inyo County (should be) accountable to adequately review the environmental impacts of an ill-conceived pilot project to allow off-road vehicles to use county roads,” a press release from the plaintiffs states.
Under Assembly Bill 628, the Adventure Trails program will allow licensed drivers of green-sticker off-highway vehicles to travel up to 10 miles on certain county roads to reach goods and services in town from off-road recreation areas. The program is currently in the planning stages, and organizers hope to have the first phase in Independence done by this fall.
In the lawsuit filed in California Superior Court Wednesday, the two conservation organizations challenged the county’s approval of the procedure that would allow green-sticker vehicles, which are not typically legal for street use, to use county roads without the environmental review required by California law.
“The Inyo County Board of Supervisors’ action would allow all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and other ‘green-sticker’ vehicles to use the same roadways as street-legal vehicles,” a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity states. “‘Green sticker’ vehicles are not required to comply with emissions, noise and safety standards (e.g., lights and turn signals) required for street-legal vehicles, and are not required to carry insurance.
“In addition to the obvious risk to human life and limb,” the press release continues, “increasing access for off-road riders, known to venture off roads and trails, also threatens the numerous sensitive plants and wildlife that call Inyo County home, and exposes residents to chronic noise and harmful particulate matter.”
The press release went on to state that the county’s environment review was of such “poor quality,” it “did not even attempt to identify and analyze the impacts” of the countywide Adventure Trails program, which the plaintiffs said “is designed to expand off-road vehicle use in many sensitive areas and areas that have been restored for rare species.”
Ileene Anderson, desert program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said, “Inyo County is setting up a wreck. The county is home to so many threatened and endangered species that could be hurt by expanded ORV use on both public and private lands. The county needs to figure out how to protect these resources, as well as public health, before it approves this new use of county roads.”
Bishop resident Dick Noles, who developed the Adventure Trails plan and worked with county supervisors and local law enforcement to make the idea a reality, said the pilot project has a number of built-in safety features, including a 35 mile-per-hour speed limit and no night-time driving rule for all OHVs on county roads.
“This is the sad part of our world,” Noles said. “These people want to stop everything. I’m merely trying to organize ATV (all-terrain vehicle) recreation in Inyo County and the CHP, chambers of commerce, Sheriff’s Department and the county have all signed off on it.”
With the CHP and Sheriff’s Department on board, Noles said, residents can rest assured that green-sticker vehicles utilizing county roads will be policed.
Noles said that the Adventure Trails system is not designed to open more off-road opportunities for ATV recreators, as the U.S. Forest Service’s Travel Management Plan already outlines where users can recreate.
His goal is to get ATV users from those federally recognized OHV-friendly areas into population centers for food, fuel and other amenities. “We’re not asking for new roads, we’re not making roads and we’re not trying to go places we shouldn’t,” Noles said. “We’re just trying to bring ATV recreation into the 21st century, like Arizona and Utah” and other states that have similar programs in place in rural communities.
“I worked for four years on the Travel Management program and we ended up losing 1,000 miles of roads, I’m just working on putting what we have left into the Adventure Trails system,” Noles said.
Noles said that Inyo County will be responsible for addressing the lawsuit, and he will continue to work with the local road department to address any issues or concerns that residents have about the project as it develops.
“Inyo County has approached this proposal with blinders on,” said Karen Schambach, California director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “It’s too bad they have to be litigated into environmental review, but they are ignoring their responsibility to their own citizens, as well as to the natural resources that make Inyo County a destination for many kinds of outdoor-based recreation besides ORVs.”
Noles said it would be up to the county whether to abandon Adventure Trails in light of the lawsuit.
Inyo County Attorney Randy Keller said the county intends to conduct individual environmental reviews on each county road proposed in the pilot program, and the two environmental groups seem to be contesting the guidelines that were set forth as criteria for proposing roads.
He also said the Adventure Trails planning effort will not be hampered by the suit unless the groups apply for and are awarded an injunction, which they have not done.