Grand County Commissioners grew frustrated at their Sept. 6 meeting as they considered several special event permit applications for events scheduled to take place very soon.
The first event considered was a five-day Hummer Club trail-riding event that’s been held annually since 1996, but has never applied for an event permit before. Grand County Economic Development Department Director August Granath said county staff only found out about the existence of the Hummer Club event through the Bureau of Land Management, who notified the county when the organizers applied for a special recreation permit from the federal land agency. The agenda summary for the event said it hadn’t needed a permit under an earlier definition of special events because of its small scale; County Attorney Christina Sloan said that’s not correct, and that the organizers should have been applying for permits all along because it’s located on public property.
“I’m not saying there wasn’t confusion somewhere, whether that was with the BLM or with the county with prior staff,” Sloan said, “but the definition has not changed, this event always needed to be permitted.”
The event organizers were slow in completing the county’s special event permit application until prompted by the county attorney and county code compliance officer. The application was submitted on Aug. 22; the event is scheduled for Sept. 19.
“This gives us very little time to turn it around, and creates hustle,” said Commissioner Sarah Stock, frustrated that the organizers didn’t heed the county’s process or deadlines. “I think the only way we can send that message is to start denying things.”
Commissioner Mary McGann moved to approve the application, but also expressed frustration.
“The teacher in me wants to say, ‘No! You didn’t follow the rules—you were supposed to put this in and you chose not to—you even procrastinated!” she said. But she didn’t want to turn away visitors from Moab at a time when visitation is down and businesses are hurting.
“People that own Hummers have a lot of money,” she said, and she expects participants will bring needed business to hotels and restaurants. Commissioner Kevin Walker seconded the motion, saying he’s prepared for event denials to receive a lot of public scrutiny, and he wants the commission to be on very solid footing for those denials. He doesn’t think a small-scale, long-running event fits the bill. (The application says there will be 24 participants, but it’s unclear whether that refers to vehicles or people.)
“I don’t want this to be the poster-child of us turning down events,” Walker said.
McGann’s motion to approve the Hummer Club event failed on a 3-3 split with commissioners Stock, Kovash and Hedin in opposition and Commissioner Evan Clapper absent from the meeting.
The second event, also a trail ride, was the 2022 Blazer Bash. Similar to the Hummer Club ride, the event is long running—it began in 2000—and has never applied for a permit before. The application also came in late: the event is scheduled to start on Sept. 9. Organizers had begun the application in June, but uncertainty about a possible cancellation ended up delaying final submission. The application also had check marks indicating that staff in the County Attorney’s office and Commissioner Josie Kovash, who is on the special events committee, had approved the application when they had not actually done so. Again, it was unclear whether participants listed—95—referred only to drivers or to all attendees.
“What happens to an event like this if it is denied?” Commission Chair Jacques Hadler asked. Sloan said the organizers would be notified that they aren’t authorized to proceed.
“Probably our most efficient and most impactful tool, is that their [Bureau of Land Management special recreation permit] is contingent on compliance with local law,” Sloan said. If they held the event in spite of the county’s permit denial, the county could ask the BLM to revoke the event’s 10-year special recreation permit. “That’s a really big deal. Typically, a permittee would not risk losing a 10-year permit to conduct an illegal event.”
Walker moved to approve the Blazer Bash, using the same reasoning he applied to the Hummer Club event: he wanted to wait until the county has established a more streamlined process that allows the commission to consider events through a broader lens and defend any denials with more solid arguments.
“Probably the people who are going to be hurt most by this will be the people who have already booked their motel, booked their flight,” McGann said. “They’ve done all this without any knowledge of our process. They’re the collateral damage.”
“I’m really discouraged that these organizers can’t comply with the system,” Commissioner Trisha Hedin said. “This event starts on Friday… we have our feet to the fire. We don’t have a choice.” She said she hoped organizers would watch the commission’s discussion on YouTube.
The Blazer Bash application was approved, with commissioners Stock and Kovash in opposition; Hedin said she voted in favor only in consideration of participants who were likely already on their way to Moab to attend the event.
The last event discussed, the “Mother of All Boogies” skydiving festival, also generated frustration. Sloan noted that the county denied the event a permit last year because they submitted their application too late; she also noted that the event has been controversial in the past.
“This is the first year they’re actually attempting to pay for the cost of the airport to run this event—because it is a big impact on airport administration,” Sloan said. She also wanted to see a list of conditions that were alluded to, but not included, in the application.
The commission voted 5-1 to approve the Mother of All Boogies skydiving event application, conditional upon review by the county attorney. Walker voted in opposition, arguing that motorized air activity is one of the most disruptive recreational activities.
Commission Administrator Mallory Nassau said she hopes to bring a proposal for a new process for evaluating special events to the next commission meeting.
“That would be really nice,” McGann said.