Last year, Grand County updated its Title 5 code, which deals with business licenses, adding new requirements for ATV businesses. The update was an attempt to address traffic noise complaints, which have been a dominant quality-of-life issue in the Moab area over the last few years. However, a new state law passed in the 2022 general session made many of the county’s Title 5 amendments illegal. The county had until May 4 to come into compliance with House Bill 146, which specifically prohibited many of the provisions. The Grand County Commission held a workshop on May 2 to review the code, and at its regular May 3 meeting unanimously repealed and replaced Title 5 with a new draft that complies with new state law.
County Attorney Christina Sloan presented a thorough and succinct summary of the issues of traffic noise, state and local regulations, and how Grand County has been affected. In 2015, Utah allowed ATVs to become street-legal. Since then, Sloan said, noise impacts in Grand County have been increasing. Between October 2020 and May 2021, the commission received 337 letters or emails asking for regulations that would reduce traffic noise, including ATV regulations. 322 of those were from Moab residents, and 15 were from visitors. Over the same time period, commissioners received 129 letters or emails asking them not to regulate ATVs; 16 of those were from residents, and 113 from visitors. That’s not including thousands of signatures on petitions asking local leaders to take action on traffic noise. (Sloan noted that complaints are ongoing, but have not been tallied since May of 2021.)
State law prohibits municipalities from restricting the use of street-legal ATVs where other street-legal vehicles are allowed.
“It shocks me that our citizens still don’t understand this limitation in law,” Sloan said, reporting that she regularly receives complaints that the county hasn’t done enough to address ATV noise.
The county may not impose a curfew (though it tried, and failed, in 2021 to have a state law passed that would allow it to do so); it may not impose an ATV permit system; may not create a trailer regulation; may not require ATVs to be as quiet as a passenger car; and may not designate residential routes.
In 2020, both the city and county established lower speed limits for ATVs, which Sloan said she believes are helping to reduce noise. Both the city and county also invested a lot of research in developing noise ordinances, which are in place. The county also issued a moratorium on ATV-based special events. Meanwhile, the ATV industry is working to offer quieter options: Sloan reported that a new model made by Can-am measures 82 decibels using the 20-inch tailpipe test, a volume similar to that of a stock Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.
The county’s efforts on noise regulation are still in progress. Law enforcement officers still need to complete training on how to conduct some types of sound tests before they can enforce all components of the ordinance.
Another branch of the county’s efforts to address noise were its Title 5 amendments, which were largely opposed by local business owners and were mostly struck down by HB 146. In early March, ATV advocacy groups and businesses filed a notice of claim for around a million dollars against the city and county for the Title 5 amendments and for their noise ordinances. There hasn’t been a lawsuit so far, but the municipalities expect litigation is likely. On April 26, the county entered into a joint defense agreement with Moab City, determining that the two entities may share information and documents related to litigation involving noise and ATV business regulations.
Alternative approaches to noise
Another bill passed in the 2022 general session, House Bill 180, requires additional education for ATV operators and imposes stricter penalties for users who cause damage in the backcountry. Sloan said the county’s next approach to addressing noise will also focus on education. A working group composed of representatives from the county’s Economic Development Department, Active Transportation and Trails Department, Code Compliance Department, and Planning and Zoning Department, as well as lawmakers and law enforcement officers, have been generating new strategies to try to address noise. Sloan told the Moab Sun News that several of the working group members regularly attend meetings of the Grand County Motorized Trails Advisory Committee, (including Jacques Hadler, the county commission’s liaison to the committee), and that some ATV business owners have weighed in directly on the latest Title 5 revisions.
Ideas for educational strategies include retooling the Moab Area Travel Council’s “Do it like a local” campaign to be more substantive; creating content that specifically addresses in-town etiquette (modeled on existing content that covers backcountry and trail safety and etiquette), partnering with the state Office of Tourism to generate similar statewide messaging on responsible recreation; helping to develop the course curriculum required by HB 180; developing a local online educational course, incentivized with giveaways like stickers and water bottles; expanding the county’s trail ambassador program to include motorized use areas; and installing flashing stationary noise meters in critical locations around town (which would be expensive).
“At the same time, hiring humans is extremely expensive, especially with our housing crisis,” Sloan said. “As we continue to not be able to fill open positions in the sheriff’s office and the police department, the money to put into stationary noise meters might make sense.” The meters are between $50,000 and $100,00 each.
In addition to these ideas, the sheriff’s department will soon complete the training needed to conduct drive-by sound tests. Sloan added that local law enforcement can improve on enforcement of other things too, like speed violations and registration violations. Sloan urged residents to forward noise complaints to the sheriff’s office and police department so those officers understand how important the issue is to the community.
Other possibilities include erecting signs in residential neighborhoods saying “No Sand Flats Access;” easing fencing regulations along the highway to allow people to construct sound barriers; and working with trail and map apps to make sure they’re not sending ATV drivers through residential areas unnecessarily.
Sloan also emphasized the importance of building strong relationships with state legislators.
Additions to the code
Most of the changes to the county’s Title 5 made this week removed provisions that conflicted with HB 146. Some new provisions were also added. One specifies that if an ATV event starts somewhere else—Colorado, for example—but ends in Grand County, that event is considered to be conducting business in Grand County. In a provision unrelated to ATVs, but part of the business licensing code, the update also specifies that overnight accommodations businesses must have a license for each individual property used for that purpose.
Another new provision requires businesses to submit a sales and use tax affidavit attesting that they will pay the required taxes specific to their type of business.
“We have, across the board, pretty massive underreporting of taxes going on,” Sloan said. A new OHV rental tax that recently went into effect, for example, was, officials believe, significantly underreported for the first quarter of 2022. The previous version of Title 5 required business owners to attend a workshop on sales tax, with the understanding that people aren’t deliberately underpaying taxes, but need help understanding Utah’s complex tax laws. The workshop provision was struck down by HB 146; the tax affidavit is an attempt to ensure that business owners are seeking the information they need to calculate their taxes correctly.
The new Title 5 also requires that ATV businesses submit an affidavit affirming they won’t alter their fleets in any way that increases noise.
Representative Phil Lyman, who will soon represent Grand County after the recent redistricting process, attended the workshop to say he opposed any measures that single out a specific kind of business for extra regulation.
“You can’t target a specific type of vehicle or a specific type of business,” Lyman said. “If government starts to become a tool for pushing some ideology or something like that, then that’s something from my standpoint as a legislator that I would want to know the truth of.”
The full workshop and discussion of noise reduction ideas, business license regulations, and tax reporting is can be viewed on Grand County’s YouTube channel.