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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.

Moab ATV Regulation Fight Isn't Over, Despite Failure Of Curfew Bill In State Legislature

An ATV is parked in a parking lot off main street in Moab.
Kate Groetzinger
A 2015 state law made it legal to drive off-highway vehicles on city or county streets in Utah, except in Salt Lake County.

An effort to regulate all-terrain vehicles in Moab was killed by the Utah Legislature last week, but people on both sides of the issue say the fight isn’t over.

The Utah Senate voted against legislation that would have placed a curfew on ATVs in resort communities from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. It was a small step to address the growing issue of noise from the vehicles in Moab, according to Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, the bill’s sponsor.

A lobbyist hired by Grand County named Casey Hill, and Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, who introduced the bill for McKell in a Senate committee, both framed it as a local control issue.

Under state law, it is legal to drive ATVs on all city and county roads outside of Salt Lake County, which means Moab can’t ban them from making noise on residential roads at night.

The committee voted 5-2 to send the bill to the full chamber with a favorable recommendation. But off-road advocacy groups like UTV Utah lobbied hard against it, and it failed in the full chamber by one vote.

“The opposition was very, very aggressive,” McKell said. “There were many, many emails sent to the full Senate.”

The leader of UTV Utah, Bud Bruening, attacked McKell, accusing him of conspiring with the conservation group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in order to ban ATVs in Moab.

“There were some unfortunate misrepresentations about what the bill did,” McKell said. “The folks that misrepresented it the most were members of Bud Breuning’s group.”

Ben Burr is the policy director of the BlueRibbon Coalition, an off-road advocacy group that opposed the bill. He said one reason his group and others fought the measure is because Grand County passed regulations last fall targeting ATV events and businesses, and put a 15-mile-per-hour speed limit on the vehicles in town.

The county also refused a permit to Rally on the Rocks, one of the most popular off-roading events in Utah. Burr’s group has threatened to sue Grand County over that decision.

“There has been a lot of trust lost between the OHV community and the elected leaders in Grand County,” he said. “And I think that in order to regain that trust both sides need to find a path to come back together.”

In the meantime, Grand County is looking at implementing a local noise ordinance that would apply to ATVs, according to county commissioner Kevin Walker. Walker ran on a promise to help regulate the vehicles.

“This constant [ATV noise] is driving people crazy,” he said. “I am very disappointed in the state legislature for not seeing this. We’re a real community not a go-kart park.”

Walker has been working on a way to measure the sound made by ATVs since last year. He said it’s not easy to isolate the sound from one vehicle, so it will take a lot of manpower to enforce a sound ordinance for ATVs. But it’s one of the only avenues local officials have to get the problem under control until state lawmakers agree to a change.

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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