The Grand County Commission last week approved new rules that restrict the size of businesses in Grand county that deal in off-highway vehicles. The rules are part of a package of new rules aimed at reducing the noise pollution effects wrought by the machines in residential areas of Moab.
The restrictions limit the size of the OHV fleets — whether they are used as rentals or for touring — that any given business can have and the number of such businesses that can operate in the unincorporated county.
The City of Moab is also working on similar rules that would oversee businesses that are registered in the city. Those businesses tend to be larger than those in the county, some owning fleets of over 100 OHVs; none in the unincorporated county have fleets a quarter that size.
The limit on growth of county businesses inspired furor in the owners of those operations, one of whom openly threatened a lawsuit against the county if it passed limits on fleet sizes.
Less controversial measures also passed with the new rules, such as requirements that OHV businesses use mufflers and other equipment that bring OHVs to a standard noise level. The level will ramp down over the next three years, per ordinances passed Tuesday.
OHVs manufactured in 2021 or earlier must emit sound no louder than 92 decibels, as measured 20 inches away from the exhaust at a particular angle and with the engine revved up to a particular speed. By 2024, that level will be down to 88 decibels.
A separate standard passed Tuesday, April 20, requires that all vehicles be quieter than 80 decibels if measured 25 feet away or 74 decibels if measured 50 feet away. The levels during nighttime hours are stricter.
One of the points of disagreement among county commissioners regarded the timeline for coming into compliance with the new rules.
Commissioner Kevin Walker argued for a July deadline while others argued for January 31, 2022. January typically coincides with business license renewals, so according to Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan, the county clerk’s office had requested the deadline for ease of administration.
Grand County Commissioner Kevin Walker said he felt the strain on county employees would be worth it.
“Sorry, Quinn [Hall, county clerk], but I am quite happy to make your life more difficult if it will get our streets quieter quicker,” Walker said during discussion of the ordinances.
Commissioner Evan Clapper responded, saying that he felt January was more appropriate.
“I think these guys are neck deep in the season already,” Clapper said. “If we had passed this in January. that would be one thing, but it’s April now, and I think that’s an unnecessary burden.”
Commissioner Trisha Hedin agreed and said that January was “fair to the business owners” and to the clerk’s office. Walker challenged her, asking whether it was “fair to the residents,” adding that he thought it wasn’t.
“I support January, and that’s because I do think it is in the best interest of the community,” said Commission Vice Chair Gabriel Woytek.
Woytek said that he felt that “pushing so many boundaries” with respect to the capacity of the clerk’s office and “challenging the businesses” with a stricter timeline could inflame the already high tensions between OHV businesses, the county, and residents dealing with noise pollution.
“I think that choosing January, as a very reasonable and natural step to make this change, is actually in the best long-term interest of the community.”
Ultimately, a majority of the commission agreed with Woytek on the matter.
While Walker said he originally opposed fleet size limits on businesses, he changed his mind after the commission settled on some measures he said were “weaker” than he wanted to see.
Commissioner Jacques Hadler opposed outright fleet size limits and suggested limiting only the number of OHVs that a company designates as rentals. He said that would incentivize tours over rentals, but he also questioned the effectiveness of rental fleet limits.
“I think if somebody comes to Moab, and they want to drive an ATV, they’re going to find an ATV to drive,” Hadler said. “We’re not sure what the city is going to do, but it could put county businesses at a disadvantage compared to city businesses.”
Hadler went over other potential issues with fleet caps, such as how they would incentivize businesses to open up across the county line, where the restrictions don’t exist but where Grand could not regulate the businesses.
Hadler also said fleet caps could lead people to bring their own machines rather than renting because of cost and availability, meaning that the county would not get to vet the OHV they bring like they can with local businesses, and preventing outfitters from educating customers on OHV etiquette and rules.
On fleet limits, the commission sided with Walker, placing a cap of 18 OHVs for any business that rents or leases the machines. The cap does not apply to a rental business once it brings its vehicles below a certain noise threshold, and companies with larger fleets may maintain their fleet sizes.