The Moab City Council’s recent document for “Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Noise Mitigation” presents five approaches for consideration. The council, city attorney, and police chief merit community appreciation and support for addressing this difficult topic. Unfortunately, of the five approaches, only the fifth can solve this problem. Even more unfortunately, the fifth option — “Lobby the state Legislature to allow Moab an opt-out of the state law allowing street-legal OHVs on City streets” — will not receive a sympathetic hearing from state legislators.
It would be naive to imagine that the proliferation of ATVs in Moab’s streets is a bug, not a feature of the state’s “street legal” law. Legislators must have understood the law would open the city and county to increased ATV tourism and put roaring, polluting machines in our business district and residential neighborhoods. Facilitating ATV tourism was clearly a primary purpose of their law. Legislators are unlikely to allow us to opt out without strong political pressure. Bringing such pressure to bear is a steep challenge for negatively affected residents and businesses. Therefore the city and county should focus on the politics of mounting an effective campaign to sway legislators. I’m guessing arguments based on defending our tourism economy will be received better than arguments based on alleviating residents’ misery. The following points could contribute to an economic argument:
1. The strength of Moab’s tourism industry has historically been founded on welcoming visitors to experience our extraordinary landscape in an exceptional range of modalities: boating, hiking, biking, climbing, canyoneering, dirt biking, base jumping, ballooning, sky diving, National Park driving, jeeping, and, recently, ATVing. Anecdotal evidence from Moab businesses that interact daily with all sorts of visitors indicates that ATV tourism has curtailed visitation by non-ATV tourists distressed by ATV noise and pollution. Business staff report that visitors not uncommonly say they enjoy vacationing here but will never return because of ATVs. Our economy will become weaker and less resilient if one of our recreational modalities reduces the viability of the others. We should design and conduct surveys to determine if these anecdotes reflect an actual trend. If so, this represents a challenge to the continuity of our tourism sector which deserves serious attention by state legislators.
2. Win-win: The legislators apparently support ATV tourism and ATV-based business in Moab. Therefore our pitch cannot be framed as “getting rid of ATVs.” We need to identify a solution that eliminates ATV noise and pollution from town as well as from residential parts of the county without knee-capping our licensed ATV rental and tour businesses. Existing infrastructure is not sufficient to accommodate trailering ATVs from business locations to trailheads. Our plan needs to incorporate the construction of large trailer lots at all designated ATV trailheads. This should enable our ATV businesses to thrive after opt-out.
3. There are financial and spatial constraints on how much trailer space can be constructed at trailheads. Therefore we should not accept applications for additional ATV business licenses until trailhead parking for existing businesses is assured.