Moab residents marched for families that were separated at the border in July and they marched again in August when ICE came to town and took away 10 people. People reached out to neighbors in need and attended town halls and when it came time to play their parts they rocked the vote with a stunning 84.5 percent turnout – the highest in Utah.
The community lost three good men at Intrepid Potash and a teenager was arrested and charged with starting the destructive Cinema Court wildfire. Moab’s prep athletes performed well on the field, the court and the diamond, and they had more events than there are days in the year.
As we look forward to 2019 with optimism, let’s take one last look at 2018.
Scores of Moab residents participated in the national “Families Belong Together” day of action July 3 and marched down Main Street in protest of the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants on the southern border. Carrying signs reading, “Be Decent,” and “I thought you said ALL lives matter,” those who came for a rally ended up in a march – one of about 700 that took place around the country that day.
Grand County announced two upcoming open houses to gather public input on its proposed high-density zoning overlay.
Grand County lost two of its most gifted paleontologists when the Museum of Moab Executive Director John Foster and his wife, ReBecca Hunt-Foster, a paleontologist with the Bureau of Land Management, moved to Vernal. The couple founded the Gastonia Chapter of Utah Friends of Paleontology.
Chase Cubelos had been working and not attending his online high school classes when he moved in with his father, Juan. The father quit taking jobs for the drill rig he owns and instead helped his son complete 23 classes in one year. It took both of them seven days a week, including every holiday, and the effort paid off when Chase earning his diploma.
Juan is an immigrant with legal citizenship. He told a reporter he worked hard to survive and he wanted Chase to enjoy a better life than he had – starting with a better education.
Whether you call them aspens or quakies, groves of them are dying at an alarming rate in the La Sal Mountains, a development expert said is linked to climate change in general and specifically to prolonged drought.
Seekhaven and the Moab Police Department partnered up to help victims of domestic violence. The Lethality Assessment Program helps officers and domestic violence service providers to work together. “The objective is to save lives,” said Seekhaven Program Director Abigail Taylor.
Team Rubicon and the Utah Conservation Corps removed about 80 damaged trees from the Cinema Court Fire burn area, making room for new home construction.
What’s the incentive to build affordable housing? The public was eager to engage local governments at the county and city level when it came to the planned high-density housing overlays that both the Grand County and City of Moab councils were working to create.
While the community agreed Moab needs a solution to its affordable housing problem, there was friction coming from those who worried the higher density would have negative impacts on existing neighborhoods’ quality of life – and property values. The Moab City Council and the Grand County Planning Commission held open houses.
A man was treated and released at Moab Regional Hospital after he crashed into two cars parked on Center Street.
The tax rate went up for business owners and it went down for some homeowners – as much as 15 percent for a select few, according to Grand County Treasurer Chris Kauffman.
It was July and monsoon season announced its arrival with a spectacular show on July 18 that delighted tourists who danced in a red waterfall off Highway 128. While Grand County largely avoided much of the summer’s wildfires – the most catastrophic and expensive in state history – came because the traditional monsoon rains did not develop.
The State Institutional Trust Lands Administration took statements of interest and qualifications to develop and/or purchase the Utah State University-Moab campus housing project.
Phil Mosher announced his pending resignation as chief of the Moab Valley Fire Protection District as of Aug. 15. TJ Brewer became the new chief.
A vandal who removed the letter D from the Grandstaff Trailhead sign sparked a debate: How did William “Bill” Grandstaff spell his last name? There was no consistency in a variety of literature, which has spelled it with and without the D. In fact, the trailhead sign features a D. The campground sign did not. The BLM, however, was confident its thorough research led them to the correct spelling – with a D.
They come by the planeload and spend a lot of money that supports a lot of businesses and fattens government coffers, but they also clog traffic, affect affordable housing, encourage price gouging by some and cram full the local national parks.
Tensions over tourism came to a head July 10 when the Moab Area Travel Council met to discuss state laws governing how communities can spend room tax revenue – with a significant percentage dedicated to publicity – and how to address growing public frustration.
Vice Chair Sarah Sidwell, in response to residents’ concerns with the amount of money spent on advertising Moab to tourists, said, “I really hate it when somebody from this board says, ‘we’re just doing our job,’ because you know what, the Nazis were, too.” The comment was taken personally by Executive Director Elaine Gizler, who left the room in protest.
In a related matter, Moab joined Sedona, Arizona; Denver-Boulder, Colorado; San Diego, Washington, D.C., Santa Fe, New Mexico; Austin, Texas; New Orleans, Asheville, North Carolina; Boston, Portland, Oregon; the Florida Keys, Bayfield, Wisconsin; Charleston, South Carolina; and Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota as one of Trip Advisors’ Top 15 solo tourist destinations.
The city looked into the possibility of banning plastic grocery bags in the second half of 2018.
The Grand County Board of Education discussed planned and underway projects, including renovations at the high school and tech center and the construction of a new middle school.
Ryan Zinke visited Utah, but answered no questions about the dramatic shrinking of the Bears Ears National Monument or the proposed Bureau of Land Management headquarters move.
The Grand County Sheriff’s Office announced a 16-year-old boy had been arrested and charged with igniting the destructive Cinema Court Fire that destroyed a number of properties in Pack Creek.
In the meantime, more than $106,000 in donations to the affected homeowners was collected.
U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, spent the day in Moab to take in a hike at Delicate Arch. A ride-along with Police Chief Jim Winder and meetings with Utah State University officials and Mayor Emily Niehaus also was on the itinerary.
He visited the Children’s Justice Center and hosted an economic development meeting with the City of Moab and Grand County councils at Star Hall.
The Moab Police Department was fully staffed for the first time in years, prompting Winder to say officers would have more time to themselves, which would enhance officer safety and improve morale, and allow the department to be proactive rather than reactive. Many officers were working 16-hour shifts.
Meanwhile, deputies continued to leave the sheriff’s office due to lower pay than other agencies offered.
A 15-year-old Boy Scout survived the night near Gemini Bridges after he became separated from his group. Kyler Wood of northern Utah went without water for about 16 hours. About 20 searchers and a helicopter crew looked for him and he was spotted from the air at dawn.
The Grand County Search & Rescue Team also assisted with a plane crash, an injured hiker and an injured rappeler during the same time – all in a weekend’s work for the busiest S&R unit in the state.
The stunning vistas of Grand County were a little less stunning as smoke from wildfires in Utah and Colorado obscured the views. More than 100 fires were burning all around southeastern Utah in August. And if water were needed to fight a fire, Ken’s Lake would not have been the place to get it. The lake held a paltry 349-acre feet of water as of Aug. 2, about 1,200 acre feet fewer than what it holds in a good water year.
The Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency closed a valve located at Spanish Valley Drive and Chapman Lane and watering schedules for irrigators were created.
In more water news, an aging waterline ruptured on 100 West, prompting the city to turn off the spigot between 100 North and 400 North.
Wildfires continued to fill the air – and lungs – with smoke, prompting the Southeast Utah Health Department to issue a warning to residents of Grand, Carbon and Emery counties. TJ Brewer became the new chief at the Moab Valley Fire Protection District, which was benefitting from an uptick in volunteerism.
The City of Moab was putting its tax money where its mouth was by deciding to purchase a Walnut Lane trailer court with the ultimate goal of building 80 affordable housing units on the site.
Patrick Trim left the Grand County Council near the end of his term after he took a position outside of the area. Trim was appointed to replace Chris Baird, who resigned in the summer of 2017, and was replaced by Terry Morse, who was elected to a full term in November.
Charging stations for electric cars were in place on Center Street, and the Bruhl family of Vermont was among the first customers.
It wasn’t fake news when the National Park Service closed False Kiva in Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park. Vandals had repeatedly harmed the popular photo op, including some who removed rocks from the ancient structure.
Meanwhile, the Moab Area Travel Council released a video to educate tourists on the cultural relevance of what they see when they visit the area – and how to mitigate the impacts they create.
The Housing Authority of Southeast Utah moved forward with a plan to build a $7 million, 36-unit affordable senior housing complex in Moab.
Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai met with educators regarding the tele-health education network at Grand County High. He also spoke to a group at Moab Regional Hospital.
The Grand County Council invited the public to write ballot arguments for or against Proposition 9, which was approved and will lead to the creation of a committee that is to create a new form of government for Grand County.
Multiple emergency calls stretched the Grand County EMS to the limits as all ambulances and crews were called out at the same time.
In court news, a sheriff deputy’s report of the repeated sexual abuse of a young Moab teenager angered the community. Charlie Hernandez was accused of the abuse and Anthony Ekman was charged with lesser counts.
ICE agents came to town and took about 10 allegedly undocumented immigrants into custody, causing many more to stay away from their places of work. The panic caused several businesses to shut down. Protesters took to the streets and marched on a busy weekend.
The Moab Area Travel Council planned to spend its budget as it always had in respect to state laws on how much had to go to publicity after Chris Baird, budget officer and now the Grand County Clerk/Auditor, advised the board to budget as if the law wouldn’t change.
Author Kymberly Mele discussed her book, “Disaster at Cane Creek,” on the 55th anniversary of the tragic potash explosion that killed 18 miners in 1963. Among the audience members at the Grand Center was Robert Bobo, whose father was one of the fatalities.
The New Americans opened the Moab Music Festival with a performance at Star Hall. The New Americans was a program dedicated to composers who immigrated to America and became U.S. citizens.
Police Chief Jim Winder said there was a disconnect between law enforcement and the Grand County Attorney, telling The Times-Independent that defendants “have the upper hand” because too many cases are not charged. Winder made it clear he wasn’t certain why so many cases were dismissed or not charged, but he did say it was imperative for everyone to get on the same page.
Utah State University wanted the city of Moab to raise $2 million by this coming July to help with campus construction.
Five members of the Grand County Council pleaded with the public to vote yes on Proposition 9, which would lead to the creation of a committee to study a new form of government for the county. Meanwhile, Vice Chair Curtis Wells survived a recall attempt that was mounted after he took credit for HB 224, the law that made the current form of government noncompliant.
The Mill Creek Animal Hospital opened a nonprofit in Blanding after discovering people travel from throughout southeastern for their services. Meanwhile, there was an uptick in parvo cases.
Activity was soaring at the Canyonlands Field Airport, where enplanements in 2017 reached 10,000 – a threshold number that led to $1 million in funding from the FAA.
In cops and courts news, a man was arrested for home invasion. Police said the man had a history of unwanted contact with the woman who lived at the home.
The Moab City Council banned plastic bags, making Moab the second city in Utah to make the move, which came with mixed feelings from the public.
Red Rock 4-Wheeler President and Past President Mike Kelso and Doug McElhaney, respectively, returned from China after working as consultants to Jinson Gao, a Jeep dealer who wanted to turn his province in northwest China into the Moab of the East.
Burt Reynolds died, and the famous actor’s passing reminded old-timers of the time he was in Moab filming a movie about a big Hollywood production overtaking a small town.
Proposition 9, medical marijuana, gas tax and gerrymandering were on the ballot in a decidedly interesting election for a midterm.
In court news, one man was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing a minor and a second man pleaded guilty to the same charge. George Sherman went to prison and Charlie Hernandez would do the same after sentencing in December.
A civil rights lawsuit ex-City Manager Rebecca Davidson filed against the City of Moab and former Mayor David Sakrison in 2016 was back in the news after the city soughts to limit Davidson’s alleged evidence. The city sought to make private more than 100 pages of testimony Davidson offered during depositions.
The Grand County Council approved the creation of a study group to look at the impacts of tourism.
An opinion and a legal opinion are not always the same. Legal opinions carry weight from a judge, but local Republicans hoping to control the process of changing Grand County’s form of government hung their hat on a letter written by the lieutenant governor’s office that said the Republicans’ signature petition that was filed first gave it control rather than the county. The issue would eventually end up in court.
The Grand County Library offers mobile hotspots – giving residents another way to access the internet.
In court news, former Moab businessman Mark Thayn, already convicted in the illegal taking of wildlife, faced theft and drug charges.
The Grand County Planning Commission voted 6-1 to recommend the Grand County Council approve a high-density housing zoning overlay to help address the affordable housing shortage. The commission debated the issue for about three hours. The overlay focused on Highway 191 frontage properties and parcels along Spanish Valley Drive.
“The Christmas Box” author Richard Paul Evans visited the house by the same name in Moab. The house provides a safe place for children waiting for foster parents. Meanwhile, Joel Redd said Grand and San Juan counties are desperately short on foster parents.
The Historical Preservation Commission was considering rebuilding the once-iconic Dewey Bridge, which was built in 1916 and was Utah’s longest suspension bridge until a child playing with matches burned it down in 2008.
In court news, Grand County High graduate Jayden Olsen was accused of murder in West Jordan.
Terry Norse was appointed to the Grand County Council to finish the term vacated by Patrick Trim. Morse was running unopposed for Trim’s District 1 seat.
The Tenth Circuit Court heard arguments regarding the introduction of mountain goats in the La Sal Mountains. The relocation of the nonnative species had been controversial from the start. The question of whether the goats harmed plant life essential to native species was unresolved and a number of lawsuits were working their way through the courts.
Grand County Council Chair Mary McGann said the Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action project would be funded at $45 million in 2019, $3 million more than the county requested.
The Desert Sun Ceramics’ Bowl-a-thon sculpting bowls for an upcoming fundraiser brought out the potter in everyone.
As the city and county closed in on plans to create high-density affordable housing in the area, the people whose lives would be affected were starting to push back.
The Moab City Council at its first meeting of October heard concerns on a number of fronts, particularly the city’s decision to change the term “family” to “household” in restricting what types of dwellings are allowed in each zone. While the topic was conditional uses, the end game was affordable housing. The changes were designed to simplify the codes, but residents were concerned that by switching family for households, the city would usher in a host of new hotel projects. But the change was necessary to avoid housing discrimination and the constitutional right to freedom of association.
Meanwhile, the Grand County Planning Commission sent the assured housing ordinance to the county council. It was the second affordable housing-related ordinance planning commissioners would recommend for approval, coming on the heels of the high-density zoning overlay.
An October storm system brought more than a foot of snow to the La Sal Mountains and an inch of rain in Moab, with the snow “thigh deep” in some places, according to a U.S. Forest Service team. While snow fell in the La Sals, rocks fell on Highway 128 not far from Red Cliffs Lodge, closing the highway for about an hour.
Plein-Air Moab brought artists to paint any number of the area’s inspiring vistas, dotting Grand County roadsides with artists and their easels and canvas.
Mayor Emily Niehaus led a celebration of Indigenous Celebration Day in lieu of Columbus Day. Niehaus in a strongly worded decree said the city “has a responsibility to oppose the systemic racism towards indigenous peoples … which perpetuates high rates of poverty … and exacerbates disproportionate health, education and social stability.”
The politics of governing Grand County were on full display thanks to the ongoing drama of Proposition 9, the ballot question that asked voters if they wanted a committee to study a new and mandatory change of Grand County’s form of government.
Vice Chair Curtis Wells, who earlier in the year took credit for House Bill 224, which essentially led the Utah Legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert to make law for just two counties – Grand and Morgan – in declaring their respective forms of government were out of compliance with state law. Voters consistently endorsed the seven-member, nonpartisan citizens board that had been in place since 1992, but HB 224 required among its most important elements that elections were partisan with no recall petitions or term limits, and that the board become a commission.
Wells wrote a letter to a Tooele newspaper, where a citizen-led petition to change the form of government was underway, that was highly critical of the Grand County Council and its form of government.
In response, Chair Mary McGann wrote a letter to the same newspaper countering Wells’ position. McGann alleged Wells violated county policy by making it seem he was addressing Tooele County residents in his official capacity and with the full council’s support. While McGann had been assured a majority of her colleagues on the council supported her letter – one of them even helped her with editing – none of them supported her attempts to approve sending the newspaper the letter on Grand County letterhead. McGann would get a measure of satisfaction a couple of weeks later.
Like a new coat of paint, downtown Moab got a makeover of sorts when the 2018 edition of MoabArTTrails public art program leads to the installation of 16 new works of art.
Climate change and prolonged drought took a toll everywhere and southeastern Utah was not immune.
The Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University’s Quinney College of Natural Resources held a symposium on the future of the Colorado River that featured experts from across the West. From academics to policymakers, the guest speakers all shared a singular theme: We can never bring the river back to the condition it used to be in, so we must move forward. The idea behind the symposium was to encourage communities that depend on the river to create a vision of what they wanted to see happen.
Meanwhile, the impact of climate change on the health of rivers could have ripple effects, according to river guide and Colorado River historian John Weisheit, who warned that water managers controlling dams on the river were keeping water levels – already historically low – at artificial highs by releasing water.
The same week, the Moab City Water Conservation and Drought Management Advisory Board noted that the water year, which ended Oct. 1, was the driest on record. And Grand County was one of six rural counties that declared an emergency drought disaster, along with the State of Utah. The declaration allowed drought-affected communities and agricultural producers to apply for state or federal resources.
New Seventh District Judge Donald Torgerson heard arguments in a civil rights and whistleblower lawsuit ex-City Manager Rebecca Davidson filed against the City of Moab and former Mayor David Sakrison. At issue was whether Davidson’s termination was due to her allegedly hostile management style or the fact she went to the FBI to discuss concerns she had with the city’s police department and was fired in retaliation.
The city and Sakrison argued she was fired because a third-party investigator concluded her continuing employment with the city was untenable. The investigator interviewed city employees and a majority of them had a negative opinion of Davidson. At least one employee related a frightening encounter with a baseball-bat wielding Davidson threatening her and her child who was not present. Several other employees reported being subjected to a verbal public dressing down by Davidson.
The judge heard lengthy arguments presented by Mary Ann May, the attorney for the city and Sakrison, and Davidson’s attorney Zakia Richardson. The city asked the judge to issue summary judgments – dismiss them, in other words – and Davidson sought to take the case to trial. Torgerson took the matter under advisement and wouldn’t issue a ruling for another two months.
Keith Jim was featured for his three passions: Art, comics and his Navajo heritage. And so it was a natural for the Moab resident to combine all three to create “The Heroes,” an origin story in comic book form. Jim’s grandfather told him the story when he was a child. Jim said his goal was to ensure creation stories endure for future generations of Navajos and anyone else who has a genuine interest in such things.
Grand and San Juan county governments teamed up to properly monument the boundary separating the two counties. The exact boundary has been unclear for many years, but it wasn’t until developments cropped up and questions were raised about which county should provide services and collect taxes that it needed to be addressed.
Manholes that were tampered with caused two sewage overflows in one month for the Grand Water Sewer and Service Agency. One was caused when someone threw an eight-inch rock into a manhole and broke the pipe. The other was an RV sewer hose that someone lost while dumping and it clogged the pipe.
A Moab man was murdered in cold blood and a manhunt for his alleged killer ranged from Colorado to Las Vegas. Edgar Luna Najera, 30, was shot twice – the second a close-up shot to the head – inside a singlewide trailer on Walnut Lane. Witnesses told Moab Police the shooter was Omar Guerro and the men with him were Jaime Flores-Solis and Jorge Ayala-Hernandez. It was the first murder in Moab in five years.
Housing, water and plastic were three hot topics discussed when the Grand County and City of Moab councils held a joint town hall.
City Hall was filled with residents who objected to the proposed high-density zoning overlay, including two people who said their rural neighborhood currently zoned for one home per acre could see a development with 35 homes on the same acre. Chair Mary McGann and Council Member Evan Clapper assured them a lot of work remained to be done. Several urged the governing boards to enact water conservation legislation – such as requiring hotels to install low-flow showers and toilets – and only one complained about the city’s decision to ban plastic bags.
It’s all over for the 2018 midterms, an election that featured a number of groundbreaking ballot questions in addition to the Grand County-specific Proposition 9, which asked voters whether they wanted to form a committee to hammer out the county’s next form of government.
Voters statewide decided medical marijuana, Medicare expansion, gerrymandering and a potential fuel tax hike to help fund public education.
Grand County voters once again showed their willingness to engage with more than eight out of ten casting a ballot in the Nov. 6 election. Voters overwhelmingly endorsed Proposition 9, Mary McGann won a second term on the Grand County Council, Christina Sloan was elected the Grand County Attorney and Katherine Williams won a seat on the Grand County Board of Education.
Grand County voters also heavily supported medical marijuana, and passed all other ballot questions as well, with the exception of a proposed 10-cent hike to the fuel tax in order to help fund public education.
The Utah State Board of Education advocated teaching abstinence in sex education class, but parents in Moab wanted more and Moab Regional Hospital filled their need through the second annual Youth Sex Education program for middle and high school students. Participants learned at the hospital what they aren’t taught at school, such as facts regarding contraception and sexually transmitted diseases.
In court news, former businessman Mark Thayn had a number of trials scheduled during a hearing in which he requested and was denied an opportunity to bail out of jail. Thayn faced a bevy of unrelated counts in cases involving alleged drug dealing and gun thefts.
A Colorado woman mountain biking on Porcupine Rim fell off her bike and died.
Grand County deputies shot and killed a water buffalo that escaped its enclosure on Spanish Valley Drive and damaged a neighboring property.
Tragedy struck Moab when three men were electrocuted in an industrial accident at Intrepid Potash. Russell Helquist, 43, and Matthew Johnston, 37, died at the scene. Arthur “Buddy” Secrest died three days later at the University of Utah Burn Center in Salt Lake City. The men were well known and some of those who responded to rescue them had known them for years. The men somehow came into contact with overhead power lines as they pulled a pump from a pond.
With voters overwhelmingly endorsing Proposition 9 and thereby diminishing the chance Grand County would revert to a three-person commission form of government, members of the local Republican Party sought donations to file a lawsuit over which group would control the process that will lead to the change.
The Moab City Council approved the Workforce Assured Housing Opportunities Ordinance – yes, the acronym is WAHOO – and repealed conditional uses from the municipal code, but the Planned Affordable Housing Developments stalled after members became mired in the details.
Grand County Council Member Terry Morse led the charge to put teeth into one of the ethics rules that guide the council. The move came after Vice Chair Curtis Wells wrote an op-ed that was published in a Tooele County newspaper and social media site.
Wells was highly critical of Grand County’s current form of government and did not clearly articulate that his opinion was his own and not that of the council as a whole.
Chair Mary McGann’s attempts to send a formal county letter to the same Tooele newspaper countering Wells’ comments were rejected, but she earned a measure of redemption when Morse successfully lobbied to change a single word in a paragraph regarding the need to disclose when an opinion is private and when it is public. The council voted 5-2 to change the word “encourage” to “shall.”
Wells and Evan Clapper voted against the change.
With homeowners already crying foul, members of the lodging industry sought a legal opinion regarding the city’s plan to charge hotel and motel developers a fee in lieu of adding an affordable housing component in their plans. Brent Bateman, an attorney with the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman, made the surprise announcement during an annual update to the Grand County Council.
A group of Moab residents concerned over a plan to fund a new middle school through a Local Building Authority rather than a General Obligation bond – which requires voter approval – mounted a petition drive to challenge the Grand County Board of Education’s decision.
Walt Dabney and Rex Tanner were the first two people named to a committee that will appoint members to another committee who will study Grand County’s next form of government in 2019, but first, Judge Don Torgerson must rule on which entity will control the process – the Grand County Council or a partisan group of private citizens.
The Grand County Council in an emotional moment paid tribute to three men killed at Intrepid Potash earlier in the month.
A veterinarian at Mill Creek Animal Hospital did some sleuthing after dogs that swam in a local pond became ill with a mysterious disease. Two dogs died and others survived after it was determined the dogs came into contact with a parasite that causes snail fever, which is normally diagnosed in the Gulf States Region. How it wound up in Moab remains a mystery.
Grand County and state officials continued to work out ways to protect Dalton Wells. The world-famous dinosaur site is subjected to vandalism and other problems, and plans to manage the site are underway.
National Geographic magazine’s November issue focused on “The Battle for the American West” and the controversy surrounding Bears Ears National Monument. But the writer also used Moab as an example of a place overrun by tourists.
Compromise led to the preservation of a historic wagon trail at the same time the Sandstone Cliffs subdivision was approved.
Murder suspects Omar Guerro, Jaime Flores-Solis and Jorge Ayala-Hernandez were captured following a 100-mile chase with law enforcement in Arizona. They appeared in court with Guerro charged with murder and the others charged with obstruction.