[Moab Sun News file photo]

At its regular meeting on March 16, the Grand County Commission discussed recreation planning and funding for a variety of contexts, heard a presentation on renewable energy, and once again discussed whether the county should consider the possibility of a downtown bypass for truck and through traffic.

Grand County is participating in two major transportation planning efforts, one led by the Utah Department of Transportation and the other a locally-led Regional Master Transportation Plan.

The commission discussed whether to formally support the concept of a highway bypass that would route freight and through traffic away from Moab’s busy downtown. Moab’s Main Street is currently Highway 191, placing large amounts of commercial traffic through areas with pedestrians and causing traffic delays.

The bypass concept has been discussed for decades but has continually met resistance from residents of neighborhoods on the west side of the Moab Valley, where some proposed bypass routes are located. When the commission began working on the regional transportation plan this winter, it budgeted $30,000 towards further bypass feasibility studies. According to Commission Administrator Chris Baird, at that time it was not clear what Moab City’s stance was on the bypass.

“At the last city council meeting, it appeared to me that the city council has since then solidified their position as being opposed to further feasibility studies for the bypass,” Baird told the commission. At that March 9 city council meeting, councilmembers were undecided on approving an interlocal agreement between the city and the county to apply for a grant for transportation planning. Their hesitancy hinged on whether the money could be used for a bypass study–something they did not want to see. [See “Notes from the March 9 City Council meeting,” March 11 edition. -ed.]

Removing consideration of the bypass in current planning documents could make it difficult to obtain funding for studies or construction of such a project in the future.

However, Commissioner Kevin Walker noted that the city and county had only limited influence on the bypass and other UDOT matters.

“Once something gets on a UDOT project list, it can sometimes be very hard to stop it,” he said.

Commissioners ultimately voted 6-1 to oppose funding continued bypass feasibility studies, with Commissioner Evan Clapper in opposition.

Funding Recreation

The meeting agenda included many items related to recreation in the area, including a presentation from the Manti-La Sal National Forest District Ranger Michael Engelhart on the “Recreation Opportunity Spectrum,” a zoning tool developed to classify and monitor recreation areas. The spectrum ranges from primitive areas that protect solitude and provide remote, self-supported recreation to developed areas that provide security and ease of access. Extensive surveying determines the classification and management of each area.

Engelhart said that this approach is helping to inform the Manti-La Sal’s ongoing revision of its forest management plan. Englehart and Brian Murdock, recreation and wilderness program manager, noted that the boundaries and classification of recreation areas will determine where and what kinds of trails may be created in the future. Residents may find more information and a link to comment on the forest management plan at www.fs.usda.gov/main/mantilasal/landmanagement/planning.

The commission voted unanimously to table discussion of a letter to Utah Congressman John Curtis supporting his sponsorship of the Recreational Trails Program Full Funding Act. The program has provided grant funding to recreation facilities nationwide since its establishment in 1991; the proposed legislation would increase funding for the program from $84 million to $250 million. Trails in and around Moab have received funding from the program in the past.

Editor’s note: In our print edition, the commission was reported to have approved this letter. We regret the error.

The commission also approved a letter to the Bureau of Land Management, requesting mitigation of crowding on local trails in areas such as Sand Flats, Kane Creek, Flat Pass and Poison Spider Mesa. The letter follows a planning meeting with BLM officials at which the issue was discussed.

The commission unanimously passed a resolution in support of funding the completion of the Colorado River Pathway ahead of the deadline for grant funding that may become available for the project. The Colorado River Pathway is a paved trail that almost connects Lions Park to the Grandstaff Canyon trailhead, but with a 5/8 mile gap where bikers and pedestrians must share the narrow and winding River Road with automobiles to complete the trip. The trail is very popular with bikers finishing the “Whole Enchilada” route.

Another recreation project for which planners and managers hope to obtain grant funding is the repair and improvement of the boat ramp across the river from Lions Park. The commission approved a letter of support for a grant application submitted by Moab City for funding from the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program, which could kickstart the development of an improvement plan for the facility.

Renewable Commitment

In 2019, Grand County joined 22 other Utah communities in making a commitment to achieving 100% renewably-sourced electricity by 2030. The goal was outlined in Utah’s House Bill 411. Called the Community Renewable Energy Program, the structure allows communities to collaborate with Rocky Mountain Power towards approving a new renewable energy program through the Utah Public Service Commission. Chris Thomas, senior energy and climate program manager for the Department of Sustainability in Salt Lake City, presented on the program for the commission.

Communities have developed an inter-local agreement to govern the program. Grand County has the option of becoming a basic or “anchor” member of the program, with potential costs ranging from $4,218 to $11,000. The commission must decide whether to join as an anchor community by July 31.

Commissioner Sarah Stock said she’s excited about the program.

“I think it’s one of the only ways we’ll get utility-scale renewable energy,” she said.

Other commissioners also informally expressed support, with the caveat that they do not want to put a heavy cost burden on families paying for utilities; Thomas noted that the cost of renewable energy is going down and that communities could strategize to ensure affordability of energy for citizens.

The Grand County Commission meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month at 4 p.m. Meetings are streamed online at the Grand County Youtube channel. Schedules, agendas and opportunities for public comment can be found at www.grandcountyutah.net. Residents can email commission@grandcountyutah.net to automatically reach each County Commission member, the commission administrator, the associate commission administrator, and the county attorney.