After hours of meetings over the last weeks diving into the fine details of policy, the Grand County Commission has passed a new noise ordinance and changes to the land-use code related to the operation of ATV-based businesses.
Noise pollution has become a bitter issue in the Moab Valley and commissioners asked the community to treat each other with respect and kindness, whatever their perspective on noise and ATVs.
“I would like the heat in the town, and the name-calling and the pointing fingers at each other from both sides to tone down,” said Commission Chair Mary McGann at an April 15 special meeting on the topic. She emphasized that while she wants noise from ATVs to be reduced, she holds no malice towards the user group.
“If I hated you, I’d be hating many of my friends and some of my family. We don’t like the noise; that’s very different from saying you hate the person who drives them,” she said.
An agreement on changes to the land-use code to restrict the operation of ATV businesses was reached at a special meeting on April 15, ahead of the expiration of a moratorium on new ATV businesses which was enacted in October. Parsing what is legal, practical, effective, fair and acceptable to all parties has proven difficult at all stages of the noise pollution discussion; in proposing changes to the land-use code, several items were particularly challenging.
One such item was a proposed cap on the size of rental fleets owned by county ATV businesses. At an earlier meeting, business owners conveyed that they found this proposal particularly unpalatable, and some commissioners were uncomfortable with limiting growth and business owners’ ability to be competitive. Business owners emphasized that their operators and guides maintain courteous and respectful behavior, and limiting their fleets will not reduce noise significantly; commissioners were loath to restrict business if it does not result in reduced noise.
The agreement illustrates the nuances of the issue: the commission agreed to freeze rental fleets in place, with the definition of “rental” being a machine that a client can rent and operate independently. However, for “guided” machines that are only used on guided tours, there is a cap of 18 machines per business. If businesses add machines that are electric or measure 88 decibels or less using a standardized stationary sound test, there is no cap on those vehicles.
The commission also voted to cap the total number of ATV business licenses in town to seven, with three of those being available to rental businesses, and four allocated to outfitters and guides, meaning clients operate the machines, but only under guided supervision by an employee of the company.
Other changes encourage companies to educate their clients on etiquette; require specific identification markers on business fleets; and have all machines meet a decibel standard outlined in the noise ordinance, which was not finalized until Tuesday. Businesses have until January to comply with the new standards. The land-use code changes passed unanimously.
Much of the April 20 regular commission meeting was devoted to a deep discussion of limits and distinctions within, and enforcement of, a new noise ordinance. Details such as the appropriate decibel limit for vehicles, whether motorcycles should be assigned a different decibel limit, what kinds of sound measuring tests should be used to check businesses for compliance, and whether and how EPA stamps on mufflers should be used as a compliance check were all up for debate.
The commission decided to forgo a recommendation from the Planning Commission that the vehicle decibel limit would gradually decrease in future years, which was intended to incentivize the ATV industry to produce quieter machines. A limit of 92 decibels as measured by a standard stationary test was agreed upon, chosen because while many existing ATVs can meet that standard or can be easily modified to do so, that limit will identify the loudest machines and allow enforcement officers to cite operators of those loudest vehicles. The new noise ordinance passed unanimously.
County Attorney Christina Sloan has advocated that the first year of the ordinances being in place be used for education and data collection rather than citations. That will allow the public to become aware of the new laws, enforcement officers to train in best practices, and elected officials to get feedback on what parts of the ordinances are working well and what may need to be revised.
Commission Administrator Chris Baird suggested that a recently approved county code enforcement officer position, which was intended to help gain compliance to COVID-19 restrictions and transient room tax regulations, be revised to include the civil aspects of noise limit enforcement.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to automatically reach each County Commission member, the commission administrator, the associate commission administrator, and the county attorney.