Last week’s story on page A1, “THP crackdown: Safe streets or hampered tourism?”, generated quite a bit of response. Some of it was positive, some negative, but one thing is for sure: all of us seem to have an opinion about the operation of ATVs on public streets.
Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s approach — and, to be sure, there are plenty of folks who feel either way — it is a matter that deserves to be scrutinized. Officials of the Town of Huntsville have levied some fairly harsh accusations, saying that Huntsville is being targeted and that ATV riders were being harassed. Whether they’re right or wrong, those are accusations that should not go unanswered.
Is it possible to believe that the troopers summoned to Scott County for the ATV events are simply doing their job, while also believing that their presence is harmful to Scott County and, more specifically, the Huntsville business community? Certainly. It’s hard to feel sorry for anyone who knew that operating an ATV on a state highway is prohibited by law, chose to do so anyway, and in the process received a citation.
On the other hand, it’s hard to not feel sorry for business owners whose bottom lines were hurt by the THP crackdown.
In these troubled economic times, with Scott County’s unemployment rate still at the top of the state’s list, the welfare of our businesses — especially those independently owned by our neighbors right here at home — should be top priority. That doesn’t mean that public safety should be jeopardized to help businesses make more money, but surely there is a healthy balance between the two.
That’s why efforts to cordon off one lane of the highway for use by ATVs — which would be separated from the flow of other traffic on the highway — seems to be a common sense approach. The fact that THP flatly declared it unlawful and said that citations would still be issued doesn’t do anything to alleviate concerns that the agency’s focus on Huntsville is malice.
The strict enforcement on these ATV event weekends has underscored a need for compromise. All involved should work together to accommodate tourists without undue inconveniences to the residents of Scott County, particularly those who live in the vicinity of S.R. 63 and River Road.
Tourism cannot replace manufacturing as Scott County’s biggest industry. And if Sevier County — where the income-per-capita is significantly lower than Scott County despite all the glitz and glamor along the main streets — is any indication, we shouldn’t want it to . . . not if our economy is going to be on sound footing moving forward.
But tourism can, and should, supplement our local economy. And if we can work together to achieve that, it is in our best interest to do so.
There are some areas, however, where the local community is powerless to achieve anything without help from the state level. Accomplishing a way for ATVs to move safely and lawfully through town is one of those areas. If THP is not going to budge on its interpretation that an ATV lane designation is unlawful, the help of state lawmakers is needed to change that. Huntsville Mayor George Potter has stated that he has confidence this region’s delegation in Nashville will take up that fight in January. Let’s hope so. And let’s hope they receive the cooperation they will need from their colleagues in the legislature and from Gov. Bill Haslam.