Over the past couple of years, Moab has been struggling to balance a boom in off-highway vehicles (sometimes referred to as UTVs or ATVs) with other outdoor enthusiasts’ and residents’ desire for quiet streets and places to enjoy the outdoors. In Utah, OHVs may be operated on public streets—meaning during the busy season, residents can hear the buzz of tires and engines all day, and sometimes into the night, from inside their homes. OHV advocates have resisted any new restrictions on OHV rental businesses or when and where the machines can be used, citing the economic benefits the industry brings to Moab and personal freedom.
Moab is not the only western town in conflict over a proliferation of OHVs. In Colorado, the remote mountain town of Silverton has seen rapid growth in motor tourism over the past several years. The town has a population of about 600 people, and those residents began to chafe over the noise and traffic problems that came with the increase in OHVs.
In May of this year, Colorado governor Jared Polis signed a state law clarifying that off-highway vehicles are not allowed on state roads. However, the law allows for municipalities to open some or all of their streets to OHV use. In Silverton, OHVs had been allowed on certain routes designated by yellow signs and arrows. This summer, the Colorado Sun reported that the Silverton Board of Trustees tried to pass an ordinance banning OHVs on Silverton streets, but OHV advocates organized a referendum on the matter to be held this fall, postponing a decision on the ban.
As reported on Oct. 13 by Christian Burney of the Durango Herald, that referendum took place on Oct. 12. It included a recall on the mayor and two trustees, and two ballot measures. The first ballot measure asked whether OHVs should be prohibited on all Silverton streets, and the second asked whether all Silverton streets should be opened to OHVs.
After the votes were counted, all the elected officials remained in office, and OHVs were prohibited from Silverton streets. 291 people voted in favor of banning OHVs on town roads, and 189 voted against it. Regarding the suggestion of opening all Silverton streets to OHVs, 117 Silverton voters cast in favor of the idea, and 324 voted against it.
Moab does not have the power to implement a similar referendum. Under Utah state law, OHVs are allowed on streets and highways (except interstate highways). In the last general session of the Utah State Legislature, Moab leaders advocated for a bill that would have allowed resort communities of over 5,000 people to vote to implement a night time curfew for OHVs on city streets. The bill failed. [See “Sen. Hinkins discusses his vote against OHV curfew bill,” Mar 7 edition. -ed.] Both Moab City and Grand County then began to pursue updated noise ordinances with clear enforcement protocols to try to address traffic noise. [See “Moab City passes long-awaited noise ordinance,” Apr. 28 edition and “After much discussion, commission passes noise policy,” Apr. 21 edition. -ed.]
Moab City Police Department officers and Grand County Sheriff’s Office deputies obtained noise monitoring equipment and conducted training days and a voluntary noise-testing event at Sand Flats Recreation Area. [See “Law enforcement begins collecting UTV noise data,” Jun. 3 edition. -ed.] County Attorney Christina Sloan has said law enforcement officers will focus on education, rather than enforcement, during the first year after the new ordinance was passed.