[Image courtesy of San Juan County Spanish Valley Area Plan]

“This came from my brain,” Grand County Council chair Evan Clapper said about his proposal to write a letter weighing in on a developing plan for a regional truck stop.

The planned development on a 13-acre parcel about 7 miles south of Moab at the county line would be the first truck stop of its kind in the region. The plan has generated both support and disapproval from residents in the area.

Reading from the council’s agenda during its meeting on Tuesday, June 5, Clapper proposed the possibility of sending a letter to the planners behind the truck stop, the Utah School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). SITLA owns the parcel of land chosen for the truck stop development and would receive a payment of $1.27 million through the sale of the parcel to Love’s.

Before he went too far into his letter writing proposal, Clapper said his idea had already received some feedback.

“I hadn’t considered possible ramifications to the bypass project itself,” he said, “and so it could muddy the waters and I don’t want to mess that up.”

The increasing traffic through the Moab area on U.S. Highway 191 has been a topic of discussion with officials in recent years. Surveys discussed at a 2018 meeting in Moab revealed “overwhelming support for the bypass” idea within the community, said Ben Levenger, president of Downtown Redevelopment Services, the company that conducted the traffic surveys.

More than 17,000 vehicles travel on U.S. Highway 191 through downtown Moab each day, according to the Utah Department of Transportation. Tractor-trailer drivers currently find parallel parking along the highway, which generates complaints, and are known to fill an undeveloped pull-off area near a gas station at the U.S. Highway 191 entrance ramp to I-70.

Moab locals have said there has been a need for a traffic bypass around the city for many years, with some community members who have strong opinions that a bypass was needed 10 years ago. However, others oppose a bypass. Without a highway bypass, or other plans to mitigate the traffic congestion, talks have continued, raising the idea that a truck stop is needed in the area to accommodate the traffic. Clapper and the council did not elaborate on how the development of a truck stop would influence a future bypass project.

The proposed truck stop would be operated by the nationwide travel service company Love’s Travel Stops, which says on its website that it has more than 480 locations in 41 states.

The founder and executive chairman of Love’s Travel Stops, Tom Love, has donated thousands of dollars to Republican political action committees (PACs) and political candidates across the nation, according to his donor reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Love’s financial disclosures show donations made to former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), who co-sponsored a bill in 2005 “to postpone the enforcement of new rules governing rest periods for truck drivers using sleeper berths,” the small sleeping compartment in tractor-trailers. The bill failed to pass the House.

Residents near the proposed location for the Love’s truck stop have been vocal about the potential impacts from commercial development in the area, bordering a residential area, citing increased traffic, light pollution that could impact the area’s world-renowned dark skies and particulate air pollution from idling diesel trucks. At recent public meetings, some residents have also expressed fear of criminal behavior associated with transient people known to frequent truck stops.

“I like the idea of putting our two cents in on what our thoughts are on the Love’s gas station,” Grand County Council member Mary McGann said in response to Clapper’s letter proposal. “I am wondering if we want to send a letter expressing, if we, you know, do see if the council does have concerns about it being placed in the middle of the residential area — thinking a more direct, rather than an indirect (proposal).”

Council member Curtis Wells said there is a joint county meeting with the San Juan County Commission and the Grand County Council planned for Monday, June 10. Wells said it’s the “first ever” meeting between the two governing bodies and representatives from SITLA will be in attendance.

Clapper said “it might be beneficial” before that meeting for the council to take a “straw poll” to see where council members stand on the issue “because obviously it seems like SITLA and San Juan are in support of the project.”

“Except northern San Juan,” McGann interjected, the area in which the truck stop is proposed to be developed.

Council member Greg Halliday spoke up and said there’s a truck stop in Wellington and said from what he has seen of other truck stops, “they’re not that big.”

Clapper said the issue is not necessarily “the footprint of the place,” but the other issues, like lighting and idling.

“But I digress,” Clapper said, which prompted Terry Morse to say, “Well, not really.”

“But,” Morse said, “one thing that I think about with that particular development is … that horse may be down the road with SITLA.”

Morse said “time and energies” would be better spent having a meeting with SITLA to “reach some type of understanding of what they would like to see in Grand County… so that this sort of thing doesn’t rear its ugly head again. I think 5 years ago we may have dropped the ball on this.”

Morse questioned “the best way to approach the problem.”

McGann said she has “spoken to people who are on top of this quite a bit, and SITLA just wants to make the money, but from my understanding, Love’s truck company has not completely signed off on it yet.”

She said that if the council opposes the plan, they write to Love’s, rather than SITLA, for “more sway in that direction.”

Council member Jaylyn Hawks said, “To be fair to SITLA, their mission is to make money. That’s their main motivating, driving force to make money for the public school systems and higher education, so it’s kind of in their mission.”

“Yeah, but to be fair to the public school systems and education, my question is whether or not they are doing what’s mandated,” Morse said.

“The plot thickens …” Clapper said, adding the sound effect “… dun dun dun.”

Morse said he agrees with McGann “wholeheartedly.”

“It’s my understanding that the president of Love’s hasn’t signed off on that,” Morse said.

Clapper said the council should “re-frame” his idea for the letter.

“If so, immediately,” Morse said.

Wells asked about the specific concerns that people have expressed in relation to the plan, and said he has always found it “odd” that there hasn’t been “a proper truck stop in the community.”

Clapper listed several concerns including air quality and said, “I think we’ve seen some citizen letters that mentioned crime and safety things from the transient nature of overnight, kind of pass-through business there.”

“It’s hard to foresee these kinds of things,” Wells said. “But it’s a piece of state land on a highway corridor and typically what we need to do is offer a buffer for those … a suggestion I have, I think a letter to (SITLA) or Love’s, inquiring about these specific issues that we have, and their willingness or interest in providing some mitigation, would be worthwhile because if they do decide to charge on forward, it would be good to provide those concerns up front, so they have the opportunity to account for those when they build this thing.”

The council made no formal decision after its discussion. The joint meeting with SITLA and Grand and San Juan counties is on Monday, June 10, at 10 a.m. at the Old Spanish Trail Arena, 3641 S. U.S. Highway 191.

Officials discuss concerns around development in northern San Juan County

“To be fair to SITLA, their mission is to make money. That’s their main motivating, driving force to make money for the public school systems and higher education, so it’s kind of in their mission.”