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Ordinance bars slacklining from structures, ‘encouragement’ of code violations: County Commission makes two changes to public lands code

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At their July 6 meeting, Grand County Commission voted to make two changes to code regarding the use of public lands. One makes it easier for the Grand County Sheriff’s Department to cite people for attaching slacklines to manmade infrastructure.

The second change, denoted as section 080, assigns criminal responsibility for anyone who “solicits, requests, commands, encourages or intentionally aids another person to engage in conduct which constitutes a violation of this title.” Violation of this code is punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000.

Though some commissioners voiced reservations over changes, both changes passed by a vote of 4 to 3 with commissioners Evan Clapper, Sarah Stock, and Gabriel Woytek in opposition.

In explaining the impetus for that 080 ‘criminal responsibility for the conduct of another’ section, Sloan said law enforcement officials have seen posts on social media praising or encouraging illegal acts. Sloan gave an example of a photo a woman posted on Facebook in which the text complained about “no slacklining” signs. Sloan said that there were tools in the photo and the sign was illegally removed, implying that the woman may have removed the sign or encouraged friends to do so.

Commission Administrator Chris Baird added that enforcement of e-bike restrictions has also been an issue.

“There's a shop in Grand County that rents e-bikes, and the proprietor of the shop is telling folks who rent from him that they should ride at the Moab Brand Trails, where e-bike riding is illegal,” asserted Commissioner Jaques Hadler, who has long experience in the local bike industry.

“A lot of the illegal activity that we see with regard to illegal use of trails with e-bikes—it's really been compelled by individuals who know better, they know that they're telling their customers to go ride these areas that they know are not legal,” said Commission Administrator Chris Baird.

Commissioner Stock opposed the 080 section, fearing its potential to be used against political speech or legitimate protests.

“This really concerns me, as an activist and organizer,” said Stock. “These sorts of codes can be used to target organizers of various events.” Someone teaching “direct action” activism or protest tactics, she said, could be charged under the new code.

“I just don't want to increase the possibility that folks are being blamed for other people's behavior and also being censored in that way,” Stock went on.

Sloan said that language in the new section conferring criminal responsibility for conduct of another was drawn from existing state law, later referencing Section 76-2-202 of Utah’s Title 76, which is its criminal code. She also noted that the new language specifies violations “of this title,” meaning Title 17, which regulates things like camping, parking, sanitation, roadways, animals, and other uses and activities on public lands.

“I would just like to say that I think it's kind of fun to slackline over rivers,” Commissioner Evan Clapper chimed in, prompting consideration on whether a comment like that would be considered illegal encouragement of code violation under the new provision.

Slacklining specific ban

“We've had an issue lately with slackliners attaching to critical infrastructure on public lands, Sloan told the commission, “specifically our pedestrian bridge is a big one, but also some towers.”

New language in the code defines slacklining as “walking or balancing along a suspended length of flat webbing fixed above ground that is tensioned between two anchors.” It prohibits attaching such a device, or any “wire, rope, swing, webbing, or slackline” to any improvements at developed recreation sites or on any public lands.

Sloan clarified that the ordinance does not prohibit slacklining using natural features as anchors.

A ban on attaching anything to public structures struck Stock as problematic. She feared it may give law enforcement a new way to target a houseless person attaching a tarp to sleep under, or an activist hanging signs.

Sloan said she trusts officers to use the ordinance with good judgement. “Personally, I have faith in our Green County Sheriff's Office—that's the only entity that's going to be using this provision—that they’re not going to use it to politically target people,” she said.

Sloan noted that there are existing ways that slackliners attaching to infrastructure could be cited under the previous code: clauses about creating a nuisance or vandalism could be used. Law enforcement officers, however, asked for a specific clause against using public infrastructure for slacklining.

“We haven’t had a clear way to cite them, '' said Sloan.

The vote

Commissioner Kevin Walker first moved to pass the new ordinance, and then added an amendment to strike the section conferring criminal responsibility for the conduct of another. Walker abstained from voting on the amendment, saying he was “on the fence;”

Commissioners Stock and Gabriel Woytek voted in favor of removing the section criminalizing encouraging ordinance violations.

Commissioners Evan Clapper, Mary McGann, Trish Hedin, and Jacques Hadler voted to retain that provision.

Due to that vote, the provision assigning criminal responsibility for the conduct of another stayed in the ordinance, which passed 4 to 3 with commissioners Clapper, Stock, and Woytek in opposition.