Grand County’s two-person planning staff departs

The Grand County Planning Department vacated Monday morning, Feb. 22, after former Planning Director Mila Dunbar-Irwin and Associate Planner Amy Mayberry departed the county.

Grand County Commission Administrator Chris Baird and Dunbar-Irwin declined to comment on the nature of the departures.

Baird said that the county would review land use applications — a key component of the planning department’s day-to-day operations — by committee in the interim.

County staff and the chair of Grand County’s Planning Commission, Abby Scott, will comprise the committee. Baird also said that the county was temporarily rehiring Mary Hofhine, who retired from her position as planning and zoning director in July 2018, in the interim.

The Grand County Planning Commission had a regular meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon, but the county canceled it Friday without posting an agenda for it.

Dunbar-Irwin said that she would continue working at Science Moab as Program Director while she pursues other opportunities and that she plans to stay local.

Typical visits likely won’t resume anytime soon at the care center.

The Canyonlands Care Center will maintain pandemic-related visitation protocols until Moab reaches herd immunity, which could take months.

The Canyonlands Care Center will maintain pandemic-related visitation protocols until Moab reaches herd immunity, which could take months. Carter Pape, licensed for exclusive use

All but one resident of the Canyonlands Care Center, and 61% of the staff, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of this week, according to the facility’s director of nursing. It was among the first organizations in Moab to receive vaccine doses, but that doesn’t mean it will be among the first to reopen.

In fact, it could be months before the care center resumes visits like it had allowed before. Visits to residents in compassionate care will continue as they have so far amid the pandemic, but for the other residents, plastic barriers will continue to separate them and their loved ones during visits.

The care center is following the advice of experts and public health authorities as it continues with its pandemic protocols despite vaccinations.

The Utah Department of Health and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both advised that care centers should remain restricted to visitors in lieu of widespread vaccine adoption, more information on the efficacy of vaccines in specifically the elderly population, and other unknowns and risks.

According to Jillian Fryer, the director of nursing for the care center, seniors typically mount weaker immunities to disease than their younger counterparts. This means that, for now, she only considers vaccinated residents to be “safer if they are exposed,” but not safe enough to allow people to come and go as they please.

Instead, Fryer expects that plastic barriers will remain up inside the care center during visits until 70% or more of residents have been vaccinated, or more research shows it is safe for care centers to reopen.

“Protecting the elderly means all of us getting vaccinated when we can,” Fryer said.

The two vaccines that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved for emergency use are from Pfizer and Moderna. Both received a green light for distribution in December after proving to be safe and reduce illness from COVID-19.

While the vaccines may also reduce transmission of the disease, scientists are still trying to prove that such is the case. For example, it is possible that vaccinated people can still act as carriers of the disease. However, a growing body of evidence suggests the vaccines may indeed reduce transmission.

Fryer said that the CDC and Utah Department of Health could change their guidance for care centers in response to more evidence, which would also change the care center’s protocols. For now, though, it is sticking to the advice of the experts.

Mary McGann wants you to make a financial pledge to back Utahraptor State Park.

To encourage the Utah Legislature to vote in favor of establishing Utahraptor State Park, Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann is seeking tax-deductible pledges to offset one-time costs of establishing the park in the area of Dalton Wells.

On Monday, Feb. 22, the Utah House of Representatives passed the bill 62-10. The Utah Senate has now received the bill, which will go through the Senate Rules Committee before being considered by the wider body.

McGann said in a press release that pledges would not be collected until and unless House Bill 257, which would establish the state park, passes. McGann also said that Grand County will match up to $50,000 of the contributions.

“Dalton Wells Dinosaur Quarry and Willow Springs are areas north of Moab that many locals and visitors enjoy,” McGann said. “The most incredible Utahraptor fossil and other species were found in this area.”

The Utah Representative Steve Eliason, a Republican from Sandy, prepared and sponsored the bill; Utah Senator David Hinkins, whose district includes Moab, is the floor sponsor on the bill. Eliason had sponsored a similar bill in 2020. After passing the Utah House 45-23, it failed in the Senate, reportedly over budgetary concerns.

Now, the proposal is back, this time with a rider that would also establish Lost Creek State Park, which sits between Ogden, Utah and Evanston, Wyoming.

An estimate released February from the legislature’s fiscal analyst indicated that the one-time costs of property acquisition and construction for Utahraptor State Park could sum to $25,659,800. Thereafter, the park could annually generate $473,400 in revenue and cost $448,500 to operate.

“This area is so essential to protect and preserve,” McGann said. “Over the years, it has served many visitors well. It continues to attract heavy volumes of visitors camping and enjoying outdoor activities. As a result, it has experienced much destruction in the process. It is time we take the necessary steps to save this precious area.

“We must protect and preserve this area that has a wealth of history for future generations to enjoy. Time is of the essence, so please show your support to the Legislature to create this new State Park.”