An expert in local noise ordinances, who has spent the last two decades studying noise pollution polcy, joined the Grand County Commission for part a workshop Tuesday, March 16 as the county pursues means of regulating sound from off-highway vehicles.
Among the knowledge that Les Blomberg, who founded nonprofit Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, imbued with the commission, perhaps the most to-the-point was his characterization of the perfect anti-noise pollution tool.
“There is no perfect tool,” Blomberg said.
Rather than one ring to rule them all, Blomberg offered seven categories of tools. Grand County Christina Sloan, who has drafted ordinances that would clarify general noise limits around the county and set standards for businesses that rent (and possibly sell) OHVs.
For each tool, he offered a rating on comprehensiveness, ease of enforcement, and expense. No tool — even the expensive ones — was both comprehensive and easy to enforce, according to Blomberg.
Grand County Commissioner Kevin Walker, who campaigned in 2020 on OHV noise as a primary concern of his and of residents, worked with Sloan and Blomberg prior to the meeting and said that, of the proposed solutions, he wanted to see three written into county code.
No vote on the matter took place Tuesday because the commission is still discussing solutions, and Sloan is still working on drafting new noise ordinances. However, the three solutions Walker identified appear to have some favor with commissioners.
Two of the solutions involve directly measuring noise with a sound measurement device; a possible third would involve identifying “plainly audible” noises from a certain distance away.
Cliff Koontz, who is the chair of Grand County’s Motorized Trail Committee, has also been working to influence and inform Grand’s draft noise policies. Since January, he has been in regular contact with city and county officials, providing educational material and demonstrations of various solutions that he endorses.
In February, Koontz held a demonstration outside the county courthouse with elected city and county leaders to show the sound levels of various models of popular OHVs. He had pushed the idea of using noise measurements as an enforcement mechanism and wanted to demonstrate how it worked, along with showing which OHVs are loudest.
To the second point, the demonstration showed that, of the eight models test, the Polaris RZR and Kawasaki Teryx — the most popular names among Moab outfitters — were the loudest. Four of the eight measured above the threshold the county is considering adopting in its noise ordinance.
Various models fit within the RZR and Teryx brands, and with customizations and tweaks, sound levels on each can vary. However, federal noise standards for highway vehicles indicate that the tested OHVs, which are not governed by federal noise standards, are consistently louder than most cars, trucks, and even semis.
Additionally, the vehicles are not designed for highway use. Even local OHV rental companies prohibit their use on highways in some cases. Mark Moore with Moab Tour Company said Monday during an OHV noise discussion organized by the Moab Chamber of Commerce is among them.
Moore said that his company doesn’t allow renters to drive OHVs past the bridge over the Colorado river. “They have to be trailered to Poison Spider or out there. If we catch them driving them out there, we charge them $1,000. It was destroying the clutches and the tires.”
Using a consumer-grade noise measuring device — not the kind that law enforcement would need to capture court-worthy evidence — Koontz showed how to conduct an industry-standard noise test, revving each OHV’s engine halfway to the tachometer’s red line, and measuring the noise exactly 20 inches from the exhaust at a very particular angle.
Blomberg, in his presentation to county commissioners Tuesday, said this was exactly the kind of test that police and sheriff’s deputies in Moab could use to enforce revamped noise ordinances.
The advantage of a stationary tailpipe test is that it sets an objective cap on engine noise, tied to real-life measurements and observations, like a speed limit for sound. The downsides are that it doesn’t account for tire noise, which Blomberg said can be substantial with OHVs. Additionally, anyone doing the tests needs training to do them correctly.