Judge to decide arguments over Commerce Clause, local control

Utah’s federal district court will soon hear a case that determines whether and to what extent Grand County’s zoning and land use regulations apply to Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury rail line service that last year announced a route between Denver and Moab.

The company said in the complaint filed July 1 in the U.S District Court of Utah that it has secured authorization from the Surface Transportation Board, the part of the U.S. Department of Transportation that oversees interstate railroads, sufficient to establish a terminal in Grand County.

More specifically, Rocky Mountaineer said that authorization was all it required to construct the terminal — that Grand County could not impose additional requirements or permitting, lest it violate the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995.

The specific location Rocky Mountaineer said in the filing that it picked for its Moab terminal is off of Highway 313, leased from Union Pacific and Intrepid Potash. The area is likely in or near a zone for which Grand County recently changed land use regulations to focus on viewshed preservation.

Rocky Mountaineer said in its filing that the Moab terminal will have “no permanent ramps, structures, or buildings of any kind,” and that it will operate as a “temporary staging area with no permanent structures.” It also said in the filing that it would use buses to pick up and drop off passengers.

Grand County Attorney Christina Sloan filed a reponse with the court July 21. In it, she said that the county initially told Rocky Mountaineer it would not need to submit a land use application or site plan for the terminal “based on a representation by [Rocky Mountaineer] that their operations would be limited to the railroad right-of-way.”

She said that, after telling this to Rocky Mountaineer in December, the company later said that it would lease land from Intrepid Potash, presumably outside Union Pacific’s railroad right-of-way.

Now, Grand County is seeking a conditional use permit from Rocky Mountaineer and a site plan that requires “minimum lot sizes, access permits, analysis of public services, adequate parking, traffic analysis, and on-site security plan,” according to Sloan.

Sloan denied in the response “that Ground County has sought to enforce all of these requirements in this case.” She also pointed out that Grand County removed from its land use code on June 20 that conditional use permits are subject to public hearings.

Sloan also denied that the county’s land use requirements were “open-ended,” as alleged by Rocky Mountaineer in its filing, and that two federal laws governing railroads and interstate commerce preempted local zoning requirements.

Rocky Mountaineer has advertised that it will begin service between Denver and Moab on Aug. 15. The first hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 7.