[Moab Sun News file photo]

Notes from the Grand County Commission’s June 15 meeting

The Grand County Commissioners unanimously approved a move to put eight of the county’s 37 power meters onto a subscriber solar program offered by the Blue Sky renewable energy program. The subscriber program uses power from a solar farm in Millard County, Utah. The move will save Grand County about $156 annually.

Blue Sky also offers “blocks” of renewable energy that Rocky Mountain Power customers can purchase. Grand County already purchases three 200 kilowatt-hour blocks of renewable energy through Blue Sky each year, and Debra Dull, a representative from Rocky Mountain Power, said that as a community, 7% of the power usage through Rocky Mountain Power in Grand County uses green energy.

Dull also presented options through which Grand County could convert to either 50% or 100% renewable energy through combinations of the solar subscriber program and the purchase of more renewable energy blocks. Those options would result in increased power costs of between $3,700 and $6,500 to the county, but commissioners showed some interest in considering them.

Commission Administrator Chris Baird pointed out that climate change is a main contributing factor to emergencies like the current drought and the Pack Creek Fire, and that embracing renewable energy is one way to address climate change. Commission Chair Mary McGann she she would like the county to “lead by example” in pursuing renewable energy options.

When commissioners examine the county budget mid-year, they will also consider more renewable energy options for the county.

Tourism promotion

Moab Area Travel Council Director Elaine Gizler requested that the commission approve the Travel Council’s application for a $275,000 grant match from the Utah Office of Tourism. If the grant were received, the Travel Council proposes to spend most of $550,000, half of which would come from the Travel Council budget and half of which would come from the state grant, on airport advertising in Salt Lake City and Chicago and on the promotional website Utah.com. Gizler assured commissioners that all advertising would include “protect and preserve” messaging as mandated by a Grand County Commission resolution this past fall.

Some commissioners expressed discomfort with that amount of money being spent on promoting tourism. Commissioner Sarah Stock said she interpreted the public’s wishes regarding educational and stewardship-oriented advertising to be for more specific messaging locally: messages like putting out campfires completely and avoiding stepping on biological soil crusts, rather than more abstract and distant messaging. Commissioner Hedin also highlighted the need for fire safety messaging.

“Those monies need to be spent in a manner that not only are we attracting those tourists, but also we’re educating those tourists,” said Hedin.

Gizler, along with Travel Council Board Chair and local business-owner Howard Trenholme, said they hoped to bring a higher-spending, longer-staying profile of visitor to Moab by focusing on airport advertising.

Baird also reminded commissioners that laws governing transient room taxes, which are the source of the Travel Council’s budget, limit how the funds can be spent. During the last general session of the state legislature, TRT laws were adjusted so that some of the funds can be spent on economic diversification, rather than tourism promotion, a victory for local advocates of TRT reform. However, TRT laws do still require some of the money to be spent on promotion.

“As long as we’re collecting a transient room tax, we’re obligated to be engaged in tourism promotion—the only way to get around that is either change the law or drop out of collecting transient room tax,” Baird told the commission.

After much discussion, the commission unanimously approved the Travel Council grant match.

Housing ordinance clarification upheld

County Attorney Christina Sloan reported that two of three appeal hearings regarding the county’s High Density Housing Overlay have been ruled on, and that the county has won all claims in those cases—the third ruling is pending the return of the appeal officer involved from vacation. The ruling is expected to be similar to that of the other two cases.

The HDHO was passed in 2018 as an incentive for developers to create more workforce housing. The overlay allows for higher-density developments, if the developers agree to deed-restrict 80% of the new units for people who live and work in Grand County. The intent is that second home-owners and overnight accommodations companies, that may have more capital than a working county resident, aren’t eligible to purchase the units and price out those workers from housing opportunities.

Several HDHO developers undertook their projects with the understanding that the deed-restriction applied to occupants of the units, not owners, and planned their project financing based on that interpretation. County officials said the deed-restriction applies to actual ownership of the units, and adopted a set of rules and regulations meant to clarify that aspect of the HDHO, prompting appeals from some HDHO developers. Appeal officials supported the county’s position.

However, in one of the appeal rulings, the appeal officer found two provisions of the new rules and regulations to be inconsistent with the original ordinance and thus illegal. Those provisions allowed a local business or nonprofit to own HDHO units. The commission unanimously approved an amended set of rules and regulations that omits those two provisions, and may later discuss the possibility of amending the original ordinance to allow local businesses and nonprofits to be owners of HDHO units.

Pilot transit shuttle program

Since 2018, local officials have been discussing and proposing projects that may be eligible to receive potentially millions of dollars in state funding through the Recreational Hotspot Program. An initial plan for a downtown parking structure was approved for the funding, but received strong pushback from local Moab residents, and officials went back to the drawing board to come up with alternative projects.

One of three projects now on the table to receive hotspot funding is a five-year pilot program for a shuttle in the Moab area. The Utah Department of Transportation will fund up to $1.5 million for the project, and is looking for a commitment of $1 million from local entities. Some of that money is expected to be able to be secured through grants from the Federal Transit Administration, leaving an expected $500,000 to be paid by local entities in the last two years of the pilot program. The Grand County Commission voted unanimously to commit $250,000 from the county toward the pilot program.

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.