The Grand County Commission held two workshops this week to continue discussions of traffic noise mitigation, UTV business regulation, and noise ordinance updates. On Monday, the commission met with Grand County UTV business owners to gauge their receptiveness to potential mitigation measures, and to solicit their ideas for addressing noise issues.
On Tuesday, the commission met to further discuss proposed amendments to the land use code and the county’s noise ordinance. On Thursday, April 15 the commission will hold another special meeting to vote on the amendments, with the goal of confirming new codes before a moratorium on new ATV business licenses, implemented by the commission in October, comes to an end on April 18.
Some local business owners who guide UTV tours or rent UTVs have expressed a feeling of being unfairly singled out and unheard in the ongoing discussion of noise pollution in residential areas, which has largely focused on noise from increasingly popular recreational UTVs. The commission invited Grand County UTV businesses to attend a meeting and offer feedback on specific noise mitigation ideas as well as offer comments, suggestions and questions.
Facilitating the meeting was Dr. Wayne Freimund, a professor in the Resource Management Program at Utah State University-Moab. Freimund has extensive background on outdoor recreation conflict and management.
Business owners emphasized their position that their fleets are not “the problem” when it comes to traffic noise. Their machines are not modified and are compliant with decibel standards proposed in the new noise ordinance, owners said, and their tours do not operate before 6:30 a.m. at the earliest and 11 p.m. at the latest. Most said they do not rent their machines to clients overnight—UTV drivers at night, they said, are most likely private owners.
Several business owners said they don’t rent their machines out at all, but rather only offer guided tours. In compliance with Bureau of Land Management regulations, guided tours must have at least one guide for every five machines rented, and most business owners said this is a fair regulation that promotes safety.
The UTV business community overwhelmingly dismissed the idea that a UTV shuttle business, which would bring UTVs to and from trailheads on trailers, similar to a bike shuttling business, could be viable. The expense and logistics, including meeting clients on time, having space to store the trailers and space to park them at trailheads while waiting for clients, were widely deemed prohibitive.
Businesses owners also vehemently opposed the idea of imposing caps on fleet sizes for county businesses. That measure would unfairly punish businesses, they said—the very users who are complying with standards and regulations. They also pointed out that limiting the number of local UTVs owned by businesses, over which the county has some regulatory power, could open a demand for UTVs that will be filled by privately owned machines over which the county would have less oversight.
Though overall less passionate on the point, business owners also generally opposed the OHV-specific speed limits that have been in place in the city and the county for several weeks, saying they cause dangerous conditions and exacerbate road conflicts, while doing little to reduce noise.
Business owners supported strong education and outreach efforts and enforcement of a noise ordinance, with general agreement on a 92 decibel limit using a stationary test performed 20 inches from a vehicle’s exhaust, before turning to other measures like fleet size caps.
On April 6, the commission hosted a public hearing to receive comment on proposed amendments to the land use code and the county noise ordinance, among other items. [See “The public weighs in,” April 8 edition. -ed.] On April 13, the commission held a special meeting to further consider those amendments in light of comments from the public hearing as well as feedback from the UTV business community.
Les Blomberg, executive director of the national nonprofit Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, has been helping the county understand possibilities for noise enforcement, and gave a presentation at the workshop outlining the benefits and downsides of different kinds of noise tests and displaying data on how different vehicles perform under different tests. He also reminded meeting participants that decibels are measured on a logarithmic, rather than a linear scale: For every 10 decibel increase in volume, the perceived noise is twice as loud.
Blomberg showed a graph depicting results of both a drive-by test and a stationary test on various vehicles in a 2006 California study. The drive-by tests were conducted at a distance of 50 feet while the vehicles followed a specific protocol for accelerating. The stationary tests were performed at 20 inches from the vehicles’ exhausts.
Drive-by tests are more reflective of what a bystander would experience when a vehicle passes. They capture not just engine and exhaust noise, but also noise made by the tires and drivetrain, as well as the impacts of driver behavior. However, results from these tests are affected by conditions like wind, proximity to sound reflective surfaces, and other noise sources. They have a wide margin of error and are difficult to defend in court. Stationary tests are easier to control, replicate, and defend, but they are a less accurate measurement of the sound experienced by the average listener when the vehicle is in operation.
The proposed noise ordinance has a decibel limit of 92 decibels for the stationary test, and incrementally reduces that limit to 88 decibels in the next four years. It would establish a limit of 80 decibels for vehicles traveling under 35 miles per hour, measured at a distance of 25 feet.
Commissioners, along with Blomberg, County Attorney Christina Sloan, and Clif Koontz, Chair of the Grand County Motorized Trails Advisory Committee, discussed what decibel limits are appropriate for each test and each type of vehicle, and which tests would be most effective in reducing noise.
Koontz argued that a drive-by test is unreliable, and should be used only as a screening measure to decide when to implement the more controlled stationary test. Sloan said she favors issuing no citations at all during the first year after the new code is enacted, instead using that time to educate the public and issue warnings as well as collect data on noise levels of various machines and most effective measuring techniques. She also pointed out that with a strict rule on the books, enforcement officers have the discretion to pursue or not pursue more minor infractions under that rule. Commissioner Kevin Walker strongly advocated for implementing drive-by tests, arguing that will be the most effective at reducing noise for residents.
Sloan hopes the commission will appropriate funds to hire Blomberg to help develop drive-by measurement standards. Currently. Blomberg is helping the county for a $1500 fee paid jointly out of the County Attorney’s Office budget and Walker’s commission budget.
Commissioners were undecided on the issue of fleet size caps. Some wanted larger caps; others suggested larger fleet caps for guided-tour only machines, with smaller caps for machines available to be independently rented. Similar conversations surrounded the concept of capping the number of ATV business licenses allowed in the county—should it be split between guide businesses and rental businesses?
No clear agreements had surfaced by the time the meeting ended. Sloan promised to bring drafts of the land use code and noise ordinance that reflect the different options discussed for consideration at the meeting on Thursday.