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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Off-Roading Advocacy Group Threatens To Sue Grand County Over Ban On OHV Events And Business Permits

An ATV on a dirt trail
Yovany Camacho/ Flickr
The Blue Ribbon Coalition is threatening to sue Grand County over a ban it placed on off-highway vehicle events and businesses.

An off-roading advocacy group called the Blue Ribbon Coalition is threatening to sue Grand County over a ban it placed on off-highway vehicle events and businesses. But county officials said the measure is necessary as long as the vehicles are street-legal in Moab.

The measures went into effect in October, along with a reduced speed limit for OHVs on city streets in Moab. In December, Grand County denied a permit to a large, annual off-roading event in Moab called Rally on the Rocks. Organizers said the event drew around 1,000 participants in 2019.

That led the event’s organizers and the coalition to threaten to sue the county. In a demand letter sent to Grand County, a lawyer for the two sides said the indefinite suspension of permits for new businesses and events involving OHVs violates federal and state law.

“If a county can ban an event like this on these grounds, they’ve given themselves a right to restrict freedom of speech and assembly,” said Ben Burr, policy director of the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

Rally on the Rocks organizers have worked with Grand County in the past to mitigate impacts to trails and have donated over $10,000 to build goodwill in the community, according to main organizer Lanse Chournos. He added the event has a $2.5-$3 million impact on the local economy.

But Grand County Commissioner Kevin Walker said canceling the event is one of the only ways the county can help Moab residents who say the noisy vehicles are ruining their lives. Walker was recently sworn in as a county commissioner, and he ran on a promise to regulate the effects of tourism on Moab residents.

“The Rally on the Rocks weekend is the single worst event of the year,” he said. “Stopping this event is just the beginning of getting this problem under control.”

Walker, who has lived in Moab for 30 years, said the issue of noisy off-road vehicles in Moab has been growing for the past five to 10 years as the sport has become more popular. And the problem got much worse this year as Moab set new records for visitation.

But local officials feel their hands are tied by a state law that allows OHV users to drive the vehicles, often called side-by-sides, on city streets everywhere in Utah other than Salt Lake County.

“A lot of this is due to an ill-advised state law that does not allow us to prohibit [utility terrain vehicles] on residential streets,” Walker said. “We need more flexibility in managing OHVs on residential streets, to prevent residents from being woken up in the middle of the night.”

He said Grand County is asking state lawmakers for more power to regulate the vehicles in Moab. The county has hired a lobbyist to push for change in this legislative session, and local residents are also organizing an effort to pressure lawmakers themselves.

Trish Hawkins has lived in Moab for three decades, and she said the issue of OHV noise is driving people mad.

“I’ve never seen the community as galvanized,” she said. “People are [upset]. Quality of life is totally destroyed in some cases.”

Hawkins, who lives down the street from an off-roading rental company, started collecting letters to the editors of the two Moab newspapers last fall. She’s put 30 of them into a packet to present to state lawmakers.

“Our main push is to get the ATVs off the streets,” she said. “Let us make our own decision about our community.”

As of Jan. 24, no bills have been filed that would give Grand County or Moab the ability to regulate or outlaw OHVs from driving on city streets.

Updated: January 25, 2021 at 1:03 PM MST
This story was updated to include comments from the Rally on the Rocks organizers.
Kate joined KUER from Austin, Texas. She has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody School of Communication. She has been an intern, fellow and reporter at Texas Monthly, the Texas Observer, Quartz, the Texas Standard and Voces, an oral history project. Kate began her public radio career at Austin’s NPR station, KUT, as a part-time reporter. She served as a corps member of Report For America, a public service program that partners with local newsrooms to bring reporters to undercovered areas across the country.
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