County delays support of proposed resolution to study Arches shuttle

Michael Liss, right, addresses the Grand County Council regarding a proposed resolution to endorse a shuttle system at Arches National Park at Tuesday’s meeting. Cindy Hargrave and Joe Kingsley join him. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Citing a number of concerns, the Grand County Council postponed acting on a proposed resolution endorsing the study of a shuttle system for Arches National Park at Tuesday’s meeting.

Council Member Jaylyn Hawks said she was not comfortable moving forward on the plan until the county and city can agree on specifics when she made the successful motion to delay action.

Michael Liss, chair of the ad hoc Grand County Transit Authority Study Committee, said early in the meeting that various government entities were on the same page. “For the first time, really, at least recently, the county, city, [National] Park Service and UDOT will work together, and that’s really important.”

Council Member Curtis Wells made the initial motion to approve the resolution, prompting Chair Evan Walker to ask where the funding would come from.

Liss said the transit committee believes the most efficient way to fund it would be by putting the shuttle study into the larger overall traffic study the Utah Department of Transportation is working to complete. Liss said the federal government could fund up to 80 percent of the project, but then said, “the problem is, the feds won’t fund transit for tourists.”

Another idea came from the potential taking of a slice from $7.8 million in funding the state granted the City of Moab to build a parking garage – something the Moab City Council might not consider necessary.

“We need to think outside the box for a permanent, easy solution,” said Transit Committee Member Joe Kingsley.

Liss cited the shuttle service in Springdale, outside of Zion National Park, saying it is a partnership between the city, which provides parking space, and the park, which operates shuttles inside and outside of the park.

“We don’t want to assume we can tell the Park Service what they can do in the park,” cautioned Chair Evan Walker.

Following Hawks’ substitute motion to postpone the matter, retired NPS employee Jim Webster, who said he worked and lived at Arches for 14 years, said NPS is bound by “bodies and bodies” of law that dictate what can and can’t be done. He said when visitation at national parks jumped 10 percent a year on average in the 1990s, NPS decided to use Arches as a test case to monitor visitors and work in collaboration with locals to figure out a solution.

He encouraged the council to follow Hawks’ suggestion and postpone taking action. He also urged the council to reconsider the park’s controversial plan to move to a reservation system. “I’d love to see that conversation,” he said, adding that reservations are common at popular tourist destinations across the world.

Liss did not voice opposition to the postponement, but he did say, “The problem is, we have to start somewhere.” He invited Webster to join the Transit Authority as it seeks a solution to congestion at the park.

The council voted 6-0 to postpone the matter. Council Member Terry Morse was absent.