Committee members reached their recommendation during a special meeting Aug. 17, after considering their special events ordinance and public safety data — alongside concerns raised by Moab City and Mayor Dave Sakrison.
Committee member and Moab Area Travel Council Executive Director Elaine Gizler said quality of life issues raised by citizenry and Moab City were not taken lightly.
“We went point-by-point through all of the comments, looked at all the replies whether for or against,” Gizler said. “We really took everything seriously. When citizens express their views, we want to make sure we’re approaching it correctly.”
Held over five days in May, Rally on the Rocks typically garners more than 1,000 registered vehicles, which organizers say represents more than 5,000 participants who come to drive their UTVs (utility task vehicles) and side-by-sides on popular trails in the surrounding area.
Mayor Sakrison, in a July 13 letter to the county, voiced concerns about noise, public safety and quality of life issues once those motorized vehicles are off the trail and in residential neighborhoods. State law allows UTVs equipped to “street legal” standards to drive on local roads, streets and highways.
“The roar of the machines throughout neighborhoods from Walker to Huntridge greatly impacts the quality of life for our citizens,” Sakrison wrote. “It is the opinion of the [city’s] leadership that the event is significantly, negatively impacting the quality of life for our residents and the quality of experience for any other visitors to Moab not affiliated with the [Rally on the Rocks] event.”
In addition to Sakrison’s letter, Moab City solicited comments about the event, which they gave to the special events coordinating committee last month. According to the county, that request for comments garnered 42 letters in favor of no longer permitting the event and 37 letters in favor of retaining it.
The county’s events committee is much less divided on Rally on the Rocks, however, when compared to the comments received by the city.
Considering their special events ordinance, the committee discussed whether Rally on the Rocks posed “a significant threat to public health, welfare, or safety, or…[an] unreasonable inconvenience or cost to the public” and found no grounds for denial.
“I don’t go on more calls for Rally on the Rocks than I do any other time of year,” said Grand County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director Andy Smith. “ … We all have this idea of public safety, we want to make sure we can protect the citizens and mitigate additional impacts from events. I just don’t think the information bears out that there’s a significant increase in public safety issues when it comes to specifically Rally on the Rocks.”
In addition to Gizler and Smith, voting members on the committee include the county’s road, building and planning departments, as well as the heads of various public safety agencies like the Grand County Sheriff’s Department and the Moab Valley Fire Department.
Eventually, Smith said that the county’s committee might have to broach more difficult conversations about events that stretch public safety resources — but that’s just not the case for Rally on the Rocks, he said.
“It’s going to end up where there’s so many [events] where we just don’t have people to [staff it]. But that’s not the case here,” Smith said. “They’ve been easy to work with, and they’re paying for it.”
Grand County Sheriff Steve White agreed. He added that Rally on the Rocks pays for “event-specific” costs related to public safety, and should not pay for extra law enforcement shifts — as suggested in some of the comments.
“We try to step up enforcement year-round with UTVs to make sure that that presence is there,” White said. “ … Should these guys pick up the tab for [extra shifts] for UTV enforcement? I don’t agree with that. I think it’s separate from the event, it’s just on the road.”’
The committee also discussed UTV noise, a central issue for many who don’t favor permitting Rally on the Rocks. Although some committee members said they are also personally affected by noise, they had difficulty pinpointing whether Rally on the Rocks was solely responsible for that impact.
“I understand the noise concern, I live close to where it is,” Smith said. “But it’s constant, all spring, all summer. It’s not necessarily associated with just this event.”
White said that the sheriff’s department does receive UTV noise complaints. But those complaints are usually targeted at the “five or six people” driving the motorized vehicles at night that may or may not be associated with the event, he said.
According to organizer Sean Reddish, Rally on the Rocks tries to reduce its noise impacts each year, including limiting how quickly participants can accelerate on the highways, which he says reduces the amount of noise. And last year, event organizers worked with the Grand County Sheriff’s Department to reroute certain guide-led trails away from neighborhoods.
For the sheriff’s department, White said that the Rally on the Rocks organizers are “super” to work with.
“Anything we’ve asked, anything we’ve done, [they’ve] worked with us on,” White said. “ … Some events we have pretty much say ‘to hell with you, we’re going to do what we’re going to do.’ These guys haven’t been that way. In my opinion, they’ve stepped in and tried to be part of our community.”
In addition to paying for law enforcement and medical services, Reddish added that Rally on the Rocks also contributes to the area through transient room taxes and charitable donations.
In 2016, he said, Rally on the Rocks gave a total of $15,000 to the BEACON Afterschool Program and the Helen M. Knight Elementary School food program. And in 2015, the event donated $35,000 to Grand County Search and Rescue.
“That’s $45,000 that have stayed right here to impact this economy. That’s not talking about tourism dollars that 1,000 participants has every day,” Reddish said.
But Sakrison told The Times-Independent he still questions the impacts to the overall economy when compared with quality of life issues for Moab’s residents.
“We’re at the stage of the game in the event process where we need to ask — what events are appropriate for this community? We might need to be more selective,” Sakrison said.
For Moab City’s part, Sakrison said that they will step up their UTV enforcement while continuing to work on legislative changes that might remove such vehicles from residential streets.
“I’m going to speak up for the people that live here. This issue struck a chord,” Sakrison said. “I’ve had people coming up to me saying, ‘thank you, thank you for bringing this up.’”
The Grand County Council may discuss the Rally on the Rocks issue during their next regular meeting Sept. 5. To comment on Rally on the Rocks, or any other special event throughout the year, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can also be mailed to: Grand County Council, 125 E. Center St., Moab, UT 84532.