Kevin Walker

[Courtesy photo]

I'm frequently asked by constituents what Grand County and Moab City are doing to solve the UTV noise problem. Here's a progress report.

I believe that UTV noise is the most serious issue currently facing our community. If things don't get significantly quieter this year, then the Grand County Commissioners and Moab City Council members will have failed to properly do their job. I'm determined not to fail.

As we all know, the state legislature is in the best position to solve this problem (by granting local governments control over whether or not UTVs are allowed on residential streets) but, unfortunately, they are refusing to act.

This presents a problem for Grand County and Moab City, but not an insurmountable one. I believe we still have enough tools in our toolbox to make 2021 and future years significantly more quiet than 2020 was. Specifically, we can (1) amend and then enforce our local noise ordinances (as state legislators have urged us to do) and (2) use our land-use code and business license authority to ensure that rental UTVs are not contributing to the noise problem. This is in addition to measures the County and City took in October, such as placing a moratorium on UTV special events and reducing speed limits for UTVs.

The idea behind the local noise ordinance approach is simple: give tickets to motor vehicles (including UTVs) that are causing excessive noise. The details, however, are far from simple. What constitutes excessive noise? Do we test the vehicles in the field as they drive through neighborhoods, or do we test under more controlled conditions? To what extent are we preempted by state and federal law? What level of rigor in measurement will be sufficient to make sure the citations hold up in court? Should noise violations be criminal or civil offenses?

All of the above questions have been debated within the county and city over the past few months, and I think we are converging on some tentative answers. By "tentative" I mean that the noise ordinance approach will be an iterative process, where experience in the field leads to further refinement of the ordinance and testing procedures. I'm very hopeful that we can start issuing tickets this spring.

Once we start issuing tickets, we will need to publicize the fact that driving a noisy vehicle on our residential streets is not merely rude, it also will likely lead to an expensive fine. The county already has a large budget for messaging that can be used for this purpose.

Rental and tour UTVs contribute to the noise problem (preliminary survey data shows that roughly half the UTVs heading to Sand Flats are rentals or tours), and we have additional tools available for reducing noise from this source: our land-use code and our business license authority. I think we should require that rental and tour UTVs are either (1) not much louder than a typical passenger car, or (2) transported to trailheads on a trailer. Additionally, the number of UTV rental businesses should be regulated. The county and city have a great deal of control over local businesses. We should use that control to make sure that business activities don't cause excessive noise on residential streets.

So please don't give up hope! Grand County and Moab City are actively working on the measures described above, and other ideas for reducing noise as well.

(The views expressed above are my own, though I'm optimistic these views are shared by most of the County Commission and City Council.)

Kevin Walker is a Grand County commissioner, former Planning Commissioner and Chair of the Grand County Democratic Party.