Before the regular meeting on Oct. 15, Grand County Council held an emergency joint meeting with representatives of Moab City and Castle Valley Town to discuss the recent National Park Service (NPS) directive that would allow street-legal off-road vehicles, commonly referred to as OHVs or ATVs, within NPS boundaries beginning on Nov. 1.
The directive comes from the NPS Acting Regional Director Palmer Jenkins and would bring the Park Service into alignment with a 2008 state law that permits street-legal OHVs to access public roads.
Grand County, the City of Moab and Castle Valley passed a joint resolution opposing Jenkins’ directive, to display solidarity and local disagreement with the proposed policy.
Moab locals have already been vocal in protest of the change. Residents have spoken out at council meetings and written letters to local papers, and a petition begun by a Moab resident on Change.org protesting the directive has gathered over 1,800 signatures. Regional organizations like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance have also urged citizens to contact policy makers and oppose the change.
Kate Cannon, superintendent of the Southeast Utah Group of National Parks, which comprises Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and Hovenweep and Natural Bridges National Monuments, documented the legal reasoning of the current NPS policy, which bars OHVs from parks, in a memo dated Sept. 26.
The memo refers to various regulations, policies, and laws to argue that OHV use is incompatible with the mission of the Park Service, and also that if permission of such a use were to be considered, the policy would have to undergo a process of scrutiny and public input.
“It is my professional judgment that for the protection of environmental and scenic values, for the protection of natural and cultural resources, and for the implementation of management responsibilities, it is necessary to continue the current prohibition against the operation of any off highway vehicle (OHV)…on park roads,” Cannon wrote in the memo.
Cannon noted concerns about the potential negative impacts of OHVs on soundscapes, air quality, soil stability, and visitor experiences in national parks. She also pointed out that OHV use is already allowed on hundreds of thousands of acres of BLM, Forest Service, and State lands in Utah.
“There has been virtually no public demand for ATV/OHV use within Southeast Utah Group parks and monuments,” the memo asserts.
An advisor to U.S. Rep. John Curtis attended the meeting, and alerted the council that the congressman’s office was hearing from many in the off-road community.
“I’m getting requests and comments, calls, emails, from people from the other side of the issue,” Larry Ellertson, a former Utah County Commissioner, said, “Just be aware that we’re going to get push-back from the off-road community, and that’s happening.”
Grand County Council Chair Evan Clapper expressed his belief that the joint resolution would help make local opposition to the proposed policy clear.
“Representative Curtis had asked us for that,” Council Chair Evan Clapper said of the resolution. “We have that signed, dated, and numbered, and we will be forwarding that along shortly and appreciate his support representing us on the federal level for all those decision makers.”
Clapper noted that the resolution particularly focuses on how the directive did not follow established protocols laid out by the NPS itself.
“That’s really what we’re trying to address with the resolution,” Clapper said.
SUBHEAD: Property tax increases
The council held a workshop on the morning of Oct. 15 to examine the financial needs of the county and how they may be met by a possible property tax increase in 2020.
Utah’s Truth in Taxation law has specific requirements on how far in advance property tax increases must be discussed in public meetings and noticed to property owners. To meet with these timing requirements, this Tuesday’s regular council meeting was the last opportunity for the council to vote on whether or not to give notice of a potential tax increase.
The general fund operations budget and the Grand County Public Library budget would see increases to cover salary and benefit raises for staff. The boost to the operations budget would also cover projects to maintain or improve infrastructure, fund new staff positions, and cover new facility debts.
Working with County Treasurer Chris Kauffman, Baird found an average Grand County residential property has a value of $242,000, and based his calculations on that number. Baird estimated that the tax increases as currently outlined would cost an additional $176.42 per year for a residential property, and $320.76 per year for a commercial property, depending on whether those properties lie within the districts that fund the budgets discussed.
“The increase shown on this notice is not necessarily the final amount, they represent a maximum,” Clapper clarified for the council and the public.
“As we continue to refine the budget throughout the fall, we’ll look for opportunities to reduce those increases,” he said.
Clapper also mentioned that if state legislation increases the amount of Transient Room Tax that can be used for mitigation of the impact of tourism on infrastructure, a move that is currently under discussion, that could help the county balance their budget.
The Mosquito Abatement District is also proposing a property tax increase to raise their budget by $80,000. This would help to pay for salary and benefit increases as well as new equipment. The district is also required by law to keep a reserve fund for high-water years, in which extreme mosquito abatement measures may be required. The tax increase would help pay for an annual $20,000 contribution to such a reserve.
County Clerk Chris Baird explained the proposed increases, and gave an estimate of what those increases would look like for Grand County property owners.
The council approved the notice of intent to increase taxes 5-2, with Councilmembers Wells and Paxman in opposition.
SUBHEAD: Development projects
The council considered several applications for development projects, all of which had previously been introduced.
A proposed development behind the new Wingate Wyndham hotel on Highway 191 was back before the council. Previously the development, called View Gate Terrace, met with concerns over an easement granted to the county for a storm water drainage facility. The development applied for the High Density Housing Overlay and will accordingly deed-restrict 80% of the units to “primary residential occupancy of actively employed households.” The plan was approved unanimously.
The most animated discussion was about an 130-foot cell tower proposed for the Old Spanish Trail Arena property.
This was the third time that OSTA director Steve Swift and InSite representative Tierney Rowe brought the proposal before the council. Previously, council members had rejected the proposed tower, citing concerns over aesthetics, lighting and too low of a financial benefit to the county.
InSite amended their proposed contract, specifically addressing items cited by the county. They increased the rent they would pay from $1250 to $1500 a month, shortened the term of the lease from 55 to 40 years, and they increased the amount for which they were insured to $2,000,000.
However, County Attorney Christina Sloan had found some requirements in the county code that had not been met—primarily that an engineer had to stamp documentation proving that no tower within five miles of the proposed site could serve the same purpose as the tower to be built.
Rowe expressed frustration that this detail had not been brought to InSite’s attention before. In addition, she noted, the materials presented by InSite to the council included data compiled by Verizon engineers that indicated the need for the tower—though it was not officially stamped by an engineer.
“I feel like every time we come before the council, there’s some other hurdle that needs to be jumped for this,” Rowe said. “It’s a constant roadblock… I’m just trying to understand how I can meet your expectations of this.”
Grand County Director of Information Technology Matt Ceniceros commented to say that improved cell coverage would be very valuable to area emergency services.
Councilmember Terry Morse voted against the proposal when it last came before the council, but he changed his mind at this meeting.
“In rethinking this in subsequent days, I think that the health, safety and welfare issues are predominantly more important than the other issues,” such as aesthetics, Morse said.
“I’m going to vote for this because after doing a little soul searching, I think it would be awful bad to not do it and then have some real tragedies,” he said.
The council voted 6-1 to approve the tower, pending a necessary rezone and the completion of the code requirements raised by Sloan. Clapper opposed the measure.
Grand County moves toward possible tax increase for 2020
“Just be aware that we’re going to get push-back from the off-road community.”
– Larry Ellertson