The Grand County Commission on Tuesday voted 6-1 to try to put a final nail in the coffin on plans for a Highway 191 bypass around downtown Moab. It also received a briefing on changes to the city’s waste management services and {over an hour} of comments regarding noise pollution from off-highway vehicles.

The commission three weeks ago voted to take a position against planning for a Highway 191 bypass in Moab, to the chagrin of what one survey suggests is a majority of Moab residents.

On Tuesday, the commission, as expected, took a further step of requesting to remove the bypass from a list of priority transportation projects for the valley. The Utah Department of Transportation will use the list, which may soon lack the bypass, to make decisions about funding or not funding projects in the area.

An alliance of businesses on and near Main Street sent a letter to the commission in lead-up to the Tuesday meeting, requesting a letter of support from the commission for the bypass. The businesses include Poison Spider, Gonzo Inn, 98 Center, Bike Fiend and others.

Additionally, residents in a recent, nonscientific survey also showed favor for a bypass even as a vocal minority showed strong opposition to it. A coalition of local and state agencies, which have been drafting a regional transportation plan, conducted the survey.

Two hundred seventy seven residents completed the online survey, which was posted on the transportation planning project website in late 2020. They answered questions about their level of support for three transportation projects in the valley: A bypass, frontage roads, and a regional bicycle network.

The bypass yielded the most polarized results of the three, with 27% saying they believed it was a “bad idea” and 66% saying it was either a “great idea” or that they were “okay with it.” Fewer than 1% said they had “no opinion” or were “neutral” on the matter; 6% said they “need more information.”

The results are not necessarily representative of the opinion of valley residents as a whole. Due to the small population of Grand County and northern San Juan County, scientific polls of the area are costly and difficult to conduct.

However, the survey offers perhaps the clearest insight on the opinion of Moabites regarding the bypass. Evan Clapper, who cast the lone vote in favor of continued bypass discussion, said Tuesday that the vote constituted the commission “sticking [its head] in the sand.”

“It feels to me, because it has been such a large part of the conversation, that completely erasing it feels a little bit like sticking the head in the sand,” Clapper said.

He acknowledged that he had not yet seen a plan for a bypass that he would “sign off on,” but he endorsed the idea of “continuing to plan and continuing to get creative.”

Clapper had previously suggested that the commission take a position against particular alignments for a bypass proposed to date that have received loud opposition. Those proposed routes would take the bypass behind the Mountain View neighborhood on the east side of town.

The commission took a wholesale approach Tuesday, and in closing his comments, Clapper said of the issue that he was “not going to die on the sword over it.”

Waste management in Moab goes public

As previously reported, the public entity that handles solid waste in unincorporated Grand County recently purchased part of the company that contracts with the City of Moab for its waste management.

Solid Waste Special Service District #1 offers specialized waste streams for recyclables, electronics and others in Grand County and operates the county’s two landfills. It will soon close on the purchase of parts of Monument Waste Services.

Monument Waste contracts with the City of Moab for its garbage collection services and in 2019 expanded to recycling collection, as well. The decision stirred up some controversy among local advocates for recycling, who said that Monument’s recycling system was less friendly to the environment than the district’s.

Evan Tyrrell, who manages the district, briefed the county commission Tuesday on the pending acquisition, which is set for April 30. That means, starting May 1, the district will be effectively the sole provider of waste management in the valley (some companies provide waste hauling in Moab for construction projects).

Members of the Grand County Commission praised Tyrrell for the work on the acquisition, which has been part of a larger campaign to professionalize and improve the district.

“I want to thank you so much for being extremely professional,” said Commissioner Trisha Hedin. “You’re extremely knowledgeable and extremely hard-working, so I’m looking forward to you taking over that system.”

Commission Chair Mary McGann said that the acquisition was a “big deal” and “very exciting.”

Everyone gets their say on OHV noise pollution

The Grand County Commission on Tuesday held a public hearing for proposed rule changes in the valley affecting business licensing and sales of off-highway vehicles in the valley. Another set of changes concerns ordinances on noise pollution.

The commission spent just under an hour taking comments, many of which came from owners of off-highway vehicle businesses in Moab, or people connected to those businesses. The other primary constituency in the virtual meeting spoke against noise pollution and off-highway vehicle use.

The proposals

The new rules would set a limit on the number of business licenses that the county grants for OHV-related businesses at five, which is the number it has currently provided. The City of Moab also has business licenses for OHV businesses that would not be affected by the rules.

Additionally, the rules would cap the number of OHVs that a business can own, with businesses already exceeding the limit grandfathered in. Another set of rules would create objective standards within the county for vehicle noise and, possibly, strengthen the rules on noise pollution more broadly.

The rules only affect businesses, roads and residences in unincorporated Grand County. The City of Moab is also creating rules and regulations that could follow the form of the county’s rules.

The opinions against the ordinances

During the public hearing Tuesday, defenders of OHV businesses and users cited the “American dream” multiple times in comments and said that the commission was “crushing” or otherwise diluting the idea.

“This is both despicable and, frankly, un-American,” said Chris Tolman, vice president of UTV Utah, which is a lobbying group for OHV users. “We are a society based on capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit, yet you are doing everything in your power to crush the American dream.”

Advocates for street use of OHVs also likened the ordinances to “discrimination” and argued that targeting OHV users and businesses constituted ignoring noise from some motorcycles and, in particular, semis and large trucks.

Dave Hellman, a local side-by-side tour provider, spoke against provisions of the proposed ordinances that would limit the fleet size of businesses in unincorporated Grand County that own OHVs. He said he has two companies with a total of 12 machines, and the proposed cap on fleet size of 12 limits his company’s potential for growth.

“It’s discriminating against me,” Hellman said. “It’s making me where I can’t growth is company.”

The opinions against the noise

Among those speaking against the noise pollution from OHVs, some cited a consensus in scientific research that shows noise pollution such as that from vehicles yields a variety of health detriments, from physical to mental.

“I just want to chime in and make sure that we’re treating this like the public health issue that it is,” said one resident, Jared Trader. “It’s not just an annoyance for people, though obviously it is an annoyance. Noise pollution is pollution.”

Trader went on to say that, if there were companies in Moab “pumping excess pollution into our air or water, we wouldn’t stand for it. This shouldn’t be any different. It’s not discrimination; it’s public health.”

In comments following the meeting, Commissioner Kevin Walker reaffirmed his position that noise pollution from OHVs was a pressing issue that had to be addressed.

“I’m happy to talk with local UTV businesses to see if there are ways for them to thrive while also preserving quiet,” Walker said. “But if we are not doing all that we can to get noisy vehicles off of our residential streets this year, then that’s not an acceptable solution.”