[Photo by Rudy Herndon / Moab Sun News]

Community members and elected officials continue to discuss how to address noise pollution in residential areas in the Moab Valley. The Moab Chamber of Commerce hosted a virtual community conversation on March 15, which was attended by several elected officials as well as some UTV business owners and Grand County residents. The following day, the Grand County Commission held a workshop ahead of their regular meeting to discuss revisions to the county’s noise ordinance and land use code.

Many of the ideas and solutions discussed in recent meetings have been debated already over the past year, but working out the details, consequences, effectiveness, legality and cost of each potential solution is complex and requires research and compromise.

At the commission workshop, Les Blomberg, director of the national nonprofit Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, outlined possible policy tools to combat noise pollution in a presentation very similar to one he gave the Moab City Council at their March 9 workshop on noise pollution. Those tools include: a stationary noise monitoring test, a drive-by noise monitoring test, a ‘plainly audible at distance’ test, an equipment requirement, and a curfew. County Attorney Christina Sloan said she incorporated as many ideas as she could into a draft revision of the county’s noise ordinance, which will need to be approved by the planning commission and put through a public hearing before final approval.

The noise ordinance changes include guidelines for testing noise from vehicles using a standard “20-inch test” and tests at both 25 and 50 feet from a vehicle. They also include specific decibel thresholds for noise from other sources such as power tools, tailored to the zone in which the noise is produced. The revisions also attempt to address “revving,” loosen the definition of “plainly audible noise,” and establish criteria for the types of sound monitoring equipment to be used.

In addition to noise ordinance revisions, Sloan presented draft revisions to the land use code regarding where UTV businesses may operate. Those revisions are in conjunction with potential changes to business licensing code; the county is considering a cap on the number of UTV business licenses issued within its boundaries. The changes would require UTV businesses to submit to the county a list detailing their fleet each year, and would need to maintain a visible identifying number on each of their vehicles.

Business fleets would also be required to meet a specific decibel threshold; business owners would have a time window to replace any existing vehicles that do not meet that standard.

All potential changes are still subject to a long process of review by the planning commission, the county commission, and the public.

Clif Koontz, chair of the Grand County Motorized Trails Committee, already submitted a detailed analysis of the proposed changes, offering support for some of them, such as addressing revving in the noise ordinance and requiring businesses to meet low noise standards as they replace their fleets. He wrote that the group opposes other suggestions, such as capping the number of ATV business licenses. Sloan has already incorporated some of Koontz’s suggestions into the draft. The commission discussed many of these possible changes in depth, envisioning hypothetical situations that could be problematic and trying to foresee which approaches will be most effective. No decisions were reached at the meeting.

The commission is hoping to complete the revision process and vote on the final draft by April 18, the date which ends the 180-day moratorium the county placed on new ATV business licenses this fall.

The regular commission meeting immediately followed the workshop, and opened with a window for citizens to be heard. Commission Chair Mary McGann made the first comment, apologizing for a remark she made at the previous commission meeting saying that UTV users are “not welcome” in Moab. She explained that she was “saddened and frustrated” by the ongoing controversy and by failed efforts at the state legislature to enact policy that would have allowed Moab to impose an OHV curfew.

“I apologize,” she said. “That was an unthoughtful and unprofessional thing to say.”

Chamber discussion

Participants at the community discussion noted that both UTV users and other recreationists have been driven away from Moab by the noise controversy.

Mark Moore, owner of Ultimate UTV Adventures, said clients have told him they won’t return to Moab because of restrictive speed limits and a feeling of being unwelcome while Jacques Hadler, county commissioner and manager of Moab Cyclery, said cycling tourists have told him they won’t return to Moab because of the number of UTVs on shared trails and the associated noise both in the backcountry and in town.

Ashley Korenblat, owner of bike touring company Western Spirit Cycling, emphasized that finding solutions to the noise problem is in everyone’s best interest.

“We don’t want the Moab brand to be tarnished in this way by any user group,” she said.

Community members discussed the possibility of electric UTVs becoming available in the near future, building larger parking lots at trailheads to accommodate trailering off-road vehicles, creating alternative routes to access popular trailheads to move UTV traffic from residential streets, and redoubled education and outreach efforts.

Several participants emphasized that solutions will be multifaceted and will take time to be effective.

City Attorney Laurie Simonson encouraged community members to contact her with thoughts and suggestions.