At their regular meeting on April 13, the Moab City Council discussed a proposed noise control ordinance draft for the city. The ordinance covers potential noise pollution from musical instruments to construction, but the primary subject of debate is the section on vehicular noise.

The Grand County Commission also debated the issue of vehicular noise at two workshops last week, focusing on limiting fleet sizes and changing land-use codes.

“The City of Moab is facing an excessive noise problem. The council has heard from citizens that their sleep is being affected, they can’t open their windows at night, and in general their health is being affected as well as their enjoyment of their property,” said City Attorney Laurie Simonson. “The council has also heard that the noise is keeping people from visiting Moab, so it’s affecting our economy.”

In October 2020, both the City of Moab and Grand County approved a moratorium on new outfitting and rental services that offer ATVs or UTVs. Earlier this year, the city council decided to pursue a temporary land use ordinance to work on specific code changes for OHV-related businesses and outfitters. Now, the city has set its sights on drafting a noise control ordinance that would set decibel parameters that must be followed by all vehicles on the road, not just recreational vehicles.

Such an ordinance could take many forms. The council may decide to set daytime and nighttime hours for specific decibel limits, set an all-encompassing decibel limit, or any combination of the two. The council must also consider what it would look like for law enforcement to implement such parameters and how they would affect local ATV and OHV businesses economically.

After perusing and discussing the noise ordinance draft on Tuesday night, the council ultimately decided to take time to talk with the community, business owners and residents to come to their own conclusions about what the ordinance should look like. At their next meeting, the council will take each individual councilmember’s approach and hope to find a compromise.

“We’re going to take a week to do outreach, talk to people and find your center of where you feel the ordinance should sit,” said Mayor Emily Niehaus. “Then, we can reconvene as a body and hash it out and find our compromise.”

A draft of the noise control ordinance

The purpose of the noise control ordinance draft as written is to “prevent noise pollution and excessive noise which may jeopardize the health, comfort, convenience, welfare, peace or safety of the citizens of Moab or degrade their quality of life.” According to state statute and police power, City of Moab is authorized to regulate noise pollution, as it can be considered a health and safety problem. This ordinance is intended to replace the city’s current noise regulations, but the Council can choose to not repeal existing regulations, or to only edit portions of existing regulations. Les Blomberg of the group Noise Pollution Clearinghouse recommended a review and update of Moab’s current noise standards.

“Local businesses and citizens want us to have a strong noise ordinance and they want us to enforce it….We are only here tonight to talk about noise regulations,” Simonson clarified. “The draft before you tonight has nothing to do with a fleet cap or business licensing. The point the council has gotten is that we first need to clean up our noise ordinance and focus on enforcing it.”

To write this noise ordinance draft, the city council consulted local ATV and OHV-related business owners, the advocacy group Ride with Respect, the Motorized Trail Commission and experts at local universities. They also reviewed the Environmental Protection Agency’s model community noise control ordinance, the City of Ogden’s existing noise ordinance, Grand County’s draft noise ordinance and current legal restraints placed on Moab regarding noise control.

“I want the community to know that we’ve listened to the concerns and made changes to the ordinance based upon those concerns,” said Simonson. “The local businesses want to help solve this problem. They understand that excessive noise is an issue in this community and they’re willing to help.”

Identical to the decibel limits in Ogden,the Moab noise ordinance draft proposes a 55 decibel (dBA) maximum sound level for residential areas from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and a 50 dBA level between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

For vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, the maximum noise allowed is 80 dBA between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. and 78 dbA from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Also like Ogden’s ordinance, the Moab draft includes that a violation of the proposed noise ordinance would qualify as a Class B misdemeanor.

Grand County has suggested a 92 dBA limit – to be measured by a 20-inch stationary test — for ATVs manufactured in 2021 or before. The Moab ordinance draft proposes a 92 dBA limit for motor vehicles measured by the 20-inch stationary test during the day. At Moab Chamber of Commerce listening sessions in March, OHV and ATV business owners agreed that their vehicles could comply with a 92 dBA stationary tailpipe test. Businesses also hope that the noise regulations imposed by Moab City and Grand County will be consistent.

“At 92 decibels during daytime hours, you will not put the local companies out of business, and I think that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here,” said Simonson.

In the draft summary, the City of Moab clarified that by setting noise ordinances and decibel limits for motor vehicles, they are not engaging in discrimination as defined by the Civil Rights Act, Title VII. Neither vehicle ownership nor operation are protected under Title VII, and federal law already dictates decibel limits for motorcycles and vehicles over 10,000 pounds.

The noise ordinance pertains to music, radio, TV noise and construction, but most emphasis was placed on the vehicular noise section of the ordinance.

The draft includes a drop to an 85 dBA limit during nighttime hours for all vehicles.

However, debate over what those nighttime hours would be, and which days they would apply, was a point of contention for council members.

The proposed nighttime hours, or “restricted hours,” in Moab’s draft ordinance are 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. But some local tour companies conduct sunset and sunrise tours outside those hours.

“If you set the level below the 92 decibel limit, it is possible that a big chunk of the vehicles would not be able to meet that and therefore would not be able to go through town,” said Simonson.

“I understand the concerns about penalizing business owners for investments they have already made, but I want to give residents at least some daylight hours in the evening to enjoy their yards without ATVs,” said Kalen Jones.

“If residents want ATVs and OHVs to only be as loud as passenger vehicles all the time, then everyone needs to trailer [ATVs to trailheads],” said Simonson.

Considering this seemingly endless list of options, the mayor then concluded the discussion, asking each council member to develop their own ideal ordinance to debate at the council’s next meeting.

“The problem with what we’re doing is that we don’t have the rule and we’re trying to find the exceptions,” said City Manager Joel Linares at the end of the meeting. The council will reconvene for their regular meeting on April 27 to discuss further.