The Grand County Commission held a long meeting on Dec. 15 which included the approval of a budget for 2021 and the denial of a 2021 permit for the Rally on the Rocks UTV event.
Rally on the Rocks
Grand County’s ongoing conflict with local UTV event Rally on the Rocks continues. RotR organizers, after anticipating a denial of their application for a permit to hold their event at the Old Spanish Trail Arena in Grand County in 2021, plan to move the vendor expo portion of the rally to a location just over the county line to San Juan County, while continuing to use the same trails as in past years.
Many of those trails are within Grand County, though on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The event holds a special recreation permit from the BLM that expires in 2027. [See “UTV Rally moves to San Juan County,” pub. Dec. 3, 2020. -ed.]
County Attorney Christina Sloan presented a list of 27 “findings of impact” produced by her office to support denying the Rally’s 2021 permit, including an increase in noise impacts and limited capacity by the Moab Police Department and the Grand County Sheriff’s Office to properly monitor and enforce the event.
The findings are included in a letter to event organizer Sean Reddish formally denying a 2021 permit and warning that the Rally on the Rocks may not host organized rides on BLM trails within Grand County.
Sloan explained that in her view, the event cannot legally use trails within Grand County for an organized event of more than 100 people without the county’s permission, even if they are on public lands. Sloan said BLM special recreation permits are contingent upon compliance with local laws, which means they would be in violation if they defied Grand County’s moratorium on UTV events and denial of the Rally permit. Running an event without a permit is punishable by a $10,000 per day fine.
Commissioner Curtis Wells asked if denying the permit might result in the same UTV use continuing without the oversight of an organized event. Sloan said she has heard some Rally participants plan to ride Grand County trails anyway, characterizing such talk as “threatening lawlessness.”
“My approach to that is, you don’t let the bully win,” Sloan said. “You beef up law enforcement during that time and you take our local laws serious and you let them know that we’re serious.”
San Juan County does not have a permitting process for events like the Rally.
Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann attended the virtual meeting of the San Juan County Commission on Dec. 15 to ask that commissioners deny or postpone leasing any land to Rally on the Rocks organizers until the two counties could meet together “giving us an opportunity to work with San Juan County on determining how to deal with events and how they can negatively affect Grand County as well as San Juan County.”
Rally on the Rocks organizer Lanse Chournos also attended the San Juan County Commission meeting and emphasized the Rally’s charitable contributions and commitment to education and indicated the group believes they would be able to access trails within Grand County.
“Due to our good standing with the BLM, they have decided to keep the honor of and commitment to our 7-year permit due to our good track record,” said Chournos.
The issue was tabled at the San Juan County Commission, with plans for a joint meeting with Grand County officials in the new year.
For several weeks, county staff and commissioners have been preparing for a vote on the final 2021 budget plan as well as final amendments to the 2020 budget. Coronavirus-related revenue losses and the unpredictability of the past year made budgeting a challenge. Increasing tourism is also putting heavy demands on the county’s services, natural spaces and infrastructure and officials are budgeting transient room tax dollars earmarked for tourism mitigation as well as tourism promotion to address those concerns.
Commission Administrator Chris Baird provided a summary of recent changes to the 2020 and 2021 budgets. Changes to the new year’s budget include a new grant coordinator position, adding $15,000 to the Travel Council’s budget to pay for “trail ambassadors,” $30,000 to hire an organizational consultant, and $12 million penciled in as revenue and expense if the county decides to sell real property and use the proceeds to fund new office space.
Baird also suggested budgeting for the purchase of equipment for noise enforcement, the topic of many recent Moab City Council and Grand County Commission meetings. $10,000 was approved for the equipment.
Other recent changes included a $30,000 allotment for a Highway 191 bypass study, which generated some discussion. Wells acknowledged that the last discussion of a potential bypass, at a joint Moab City Council and Grand County Commission meeting, didn’t go well. [See “Officials pass on the bypass,” pub. Nov. 5, 2020. -ed.]
The $30,000 would fund a new traffic study and a consultant-led public engagement process on the proposed Highway 191 bypass, Wells said.
Commissioner Evan Clapper suggested the commission wait until a regional transportation plan, which is being developed, is complete before broaching the bypass again.
“I think we’ve heard, pretty loud, from a lot of citizens, that a bypass strictly within Grand County is not something there’s a lot of support for,” Clapper said. He noted that there may be support for a regional bypass that doesn’t add another road in the Moab Valley.
The 2020 budget was passed by a vote of 5-1, with Wells in opposition and Commissioner Rory Paxman absent.
The 2021 budget, including the $30,000 for the bypass study as well as $10,000 for the purchase of sound monitoring equipment, was passed 4-1, with Clapper in opposition, Wells abstaining, and Paxman absent. The 2021 budget will be subject to amendments during the coming year.
The Grand County Commission meets the first and third Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Grand County Government Youtube channel. Agendas and instructions on public comment can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net/134/County-Council.
“You don’t let the bully win.”
– Christina Sloan