Public comment lasted over an hour at the San Juan County Commission’s regular meeting on Jan. 5, as citizens from Grand and San Juan counties shared their arguments for and against allowing Rally on the Rocks, the popular UTV event, to take place on a piece of county property in Spanish Valley this year.
Event organizers had previously announced the event’s headquarters and staging area would be moved from Grand County to the San Juan side of the county line in response to recent ordinances restricting UTV speeds and a perception that the Grand County Commission was unsupportive of the event. Indeed, the Grand County Commission voted on Dec. 5 to deny the event a 2021 permit, citing residents’ complaints about noise pollution, event organizers’ refusal to comply with county criteria for the event, and other disturbances.
Ultimately, the San Juan County Commission voted to deny Rally on the Rocks the permit for the county property in Spanish Valley. Commissioners Willie Greyeyes and Kenneth Maryboy voted against issuing the permit, while Commissioner Bruce Adams voted in favor.
Public comments at the meeting
Grand County Councilmember Mary McGann spoke at the San Juan County Commission meeting and reported that the county received 176 emails complaining about off-highway vehicle use in Moab City and 49 thank-you messages when they refused Rally on the Rocks. A petition titled “Make Moab Quiet Again” has also circled around the area, garnering 3,341 signatures.
McGann said that though organizers and the county had worked together in 2020 to develop a list of criteria for UTV users to follow, when it came time to request a permit for 2021, “they started complaining about the criteria they had helped develop.”
“Most likely the county would have granted the permit if the Rally on the Rocks organizers had agreed to what they had agreed to the year before,” said McGann. She urged the San Juan County Commissioners to deny the permit to Rally on the Rocks.
Kevin Walker, a newly elected Grand County Councilmember, also asked San Juan County to vote against the UTV rally.
“What the event organizers are trying to do is move it just barely across the county line and continue to ride all the same trails in Grand County and drive through the same neighborhoods,” he said.
Walker and other meeting attendees argued that though the event would be technically headquartered in San Juan County, the majority of revenue generated from Rally on the Rocks would go to Grand County. Most event goers would stay at Moab hotels, eat at Moab restaurants, and spend their money at Moab shops, Walker said.
“To call this an economic benefit for San Juan County seems kind of far-fetched if you’re only going to get $2,000 and basically none of the hotel and restaurant revenues which will all be going into Moab,” said Jeff Mattson, who lives in northern San Juan County. Rally on the Rocks would pay $2,000 to lease a five-acre portion of San Juan County in Spanish Valley.
But other residents argued that San Juan County could use any extra revenue that Rally on the Rocks would encourage.
“I think that if this is passed, it will only enhance the travel opportunities that people have so that people will come back to explore your trails,” said Brent Blake, Miller County resident and Rally on the Rocks attendee.
Andrea Wilson of Spanish Valley asked the commissioners to consider how the tourism industry’s employees would benefit from hosting Rally on the Rocks.
“These people rely on tourists to put food on their tables and roofs over their heads, and they lost their income when tourists couldn’t come during COVID,” she argued. “San Juan County is in dire straits as far as our financial situation, and I think Rally on the Rocks would be a good way to produce some income, as we have none right now.”
Aside from potential financial benefits, many Spanish Valley residents brought up the potential damage to county infrastructure Rally on the Rocks poses.
“Having this event in our county will not only mean increased noise and traffic in Spanish Valley neighborhoods, but it will also add significant damage and wear to our four-wheel-drive roads and trails,” said Carolyn Dailey.
Many of the public commenters against allowing Rally on the Rocks to hold their event in San Juan County encouraged organizers to consider Monticello, Blanding or Bluff instead of Spanish Valley.
“I’m all for helping the county, but I do think we have to be careful about what events are scheduled,” said Spanish Valley resident Monette Clark. “There would be more to gain from this event in Monticello or Blanding.”
Members of Utah’s UTV community who attended the meeting focused on accusations of discrimination.
Benjamin Burr from New Harmony, Utah serves as the policy director for the group UTV Utah, Utah’s largest off-road community and advocacy group. He said that the group’s lawyers are reviewing Grand County’s rejection of Rally on the Rocks’ permit for discrimination.
The president of UTV Utah, Bud Bruening, said that Rally on the Rocks and the wider UTV community has worked diligently with the City of Moab and Grand County, but that these efforts “have fallen on deaf ears.”
“We understand there are bad apples, and we do our best to communicate with and educate them. We see Rally on the Rocks as an opportunity to educate the OHV community and offer our help to San Juan County.” said Bruening.
Giving Spanish Valley a pass
Both residents during the public comment period and officials noted that while the vendor expo would lie in San Juan County, event attendees would be likely using the same trails, which lie in Grand County but are managed by the Bureau of Land Management, as in past years. Not only that, but attendees were likely to use Moab’s hotels and restaurants, limiting the potential financial benefit for San Juan County.
“We should renegotiate to have Rally on the Rocks in Monticello or Blanding where some amenities, hotels and eateries are available. If we place it next to Moab, they get the benefit,” said Greyeyes.
Commissioner Adams argued in favor of the lease, commenting that the county should treat 2021 as a trial run.
“We ought to give this event a chance to happen and work with the organizers to improve the event,” he said. “There is some economic benefit that comes in overnight rentals in that area and that would benefit San Juan County.”
Commissioner Maryboy, a mud racer himself, said he has “nothing against ATVs or other machines for racing,” but cited coronavirus concerns and the event organizers’ inability to monitor all attendees’ behavior for his nay vote. As proposed, Maryboy predicted that San Juan County would generate no real revenue from the event.
Maryboy also likened the concerns of Spanish Valley residents to those living on the Navajo Nation.
“Out here on the reservation, we have companies parading all over the place. The promoters and the people who come will visit for two or three days, but the people that live there permanently will live with all of that,” he said.
“If there was no pandemic, I’d be promoting this event too,” Maryboy continued, pointing out that COVID-19 cases are only rising from the holiday season.“But people are dying. You may not care, but I care — I don’t want anybody hurt or sick.”
Now that the San Juan County Commission rejected the Rally on the Rocks permit, event organizers appear to be back to square one. Prevented from holding their event near the county line, it remains to be seen if the organizers will consider hosting the rally deeper in San Juan County.
The San Juan County Commission meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at 11 a.m. Meetings are streamed live on the San Juan County Commission Youtube page.
Commissioners urge event to consider moving away from county line