Pictured, Grand County Sheriff’s Office deputies set up decibel monitoring equipment on a modified rock-crawler at Sand Flats Recreation Area on May 27, 2021, watched by Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann. Credit: Maggie McGuire/Moab Sun News

UTV advocacy nonprofit the BlueRibbon Coalition and 11 Moab businesses have moved forward with a formal lawsuit against Grand County and Moab City challenging both noise ordinances and business licensing requirements enacted by the entities. The suit follows a legal claim filed this spring, claiming $1 million in damages caused to local businesses. 

Moab formally denied the claims in April; the county did not respond to the claims, effectively a denial. City and county officials anticipated a lawsuit, and in April signed a joint defense agreement saying they could share information and documents related to the expected litigation. 

The suit was filed this week, seeking no less than $1 million in damages, plus attorney’s fees. Plaintiffs claim that Grand County and Moab City’s codes conflict with Utah law (specifically code defining street-legal ATVs), are impossible to comply with (because most stock vehicles are louder than county codes allow, and because there was no formal avenue to test business fleets for noise compliance when certain provisions were enacted), and violate the Utah and U.S. constitutions (because they target a particular type of business). 

“Local government officials in Grand County were negligent to pass ordinances that are clearly contradictory to state law,” BlueRibbon Coalition Executive Director Ben Burr said in a Sept. 27 press release announcing the lawsuit. “Grand County Officials have caused harm to these local businesses, and at the same time these officials have been engaged in an effort to discourage people from visiting Moab. We look forward to a favorable result in court to provide relief for the damages these businesses suffered and to enjoin these unlawful restrictions.”

The suit complains of county and city noise ordinances that cap vehicle noise at 92 decibels between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. as measured by a standardized stationary test; as well as various provisions of Grand County’s Title 5, which regulates business licenses. 

Title 5 has been amended several times over the past couple of years, first in an attempt to explicitly outline county authority to regulate businesses that sell, rent, or guide using ATVs. In the spring of 2022, the Utah legislature passed House Bill 146, which expressly prohibited several of Grand County’s new Title 5 clauses. In May, the county again amended its Title 5 to comply with the new state law.

The lawsuit does complain of some of the deleted provisions of the earlier version of Title 5, claiming it cost businesses in spent money and lost revenue. Those provisions required business fleets to meet the county’s noise standards; plaintiffs say there was no clear avenue to comply with those standards in time to meet the included deadline, and that business was disrupted as a result. 

“Plaintiffs purchased vehicle parts and attempted to make alterations to their ATVs so they would pass the test when the opportunity finally became available,” the lawsuit says. “Others had to sell their equipment and reduce their inventory.” County Attorney Christina Sloan told businesses at the time that the provision would not be enforced immediately. 

In addition, the lawsuit says, businesses were unsure if they would be able to renew their business licenses, and thus,

“Plaintiffs had to cancel existing bookings and turn down other booking requests resulting in lost clientele, sales, revenue, wages, inventory, and even employees.” 

The lawsuit also challenges a remaining Title 5 provision which limits the number of new licenses for ATV businesses the county will issue.

The current Title 5 also requires ATV businesses to sign an affidavit attesting that they will not alter the manufacturer’s muffler in a way that increases the noise volume of the vehicle; that their vehicles will not exceed limits listed in the county’s noise ordinance; and that businesses shall require their clients to complete the safety and education training that’s required by Utah statute. 

Moab City Communications Manager Lisa Church said the city is still reviewing the suit and did not have a comment before press time. 

Sloan said she can’t comment specifically on the lawsuit, but she has said in public Grand County Commission meetings that Grand County has broad authority to regulate business within its boundaries. 

“The County has a legal responsibility to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its inhabitants,” she said in an email to the Moab Sun News. “That includes regulating pollution harmful to residents and visitors—and pushing back on outside interests like the Blue Ribbon Coalition, who is trying to gain an advantage for their members at the expense of our community.” 

The BlueRibbon Coalition is based in Idaho, but has members across the country, including in Moab. 

Sloan went on to say that the county’s decisions have been motivated by a concern for the health, safety and welfare of county residents, and that they have been “grounded in science, law and ethics.”

“While the economic rights of our local ATV businesses are important, the U.S. Supreme Court has found for 100 years that they are not absolute,” she said. “Noise pollution is pollution. Noise pollution is a health and safety issue. Regulating noise pollution is a legitimate governmental interest.”