City council strategizes on tackling OHV noise rules

Statewide interest groups loom large over effort

Moabites hoping to regulate the noise pollution created by off-highway vehicles like the UTV shown here may soon see movement on the matter as the Moab City Council sends its legislative strategist J. Casey Hill to the state capital to lobby on the matter. File photo by Carter Pape

Moab’s frustration with the noise from off-highway vehicles polluting the downtown area will soon meet the powerful influences in Salt Lake City that have won legislative battles to allow OHVs on streets around the state while seeing mixed results more recently with the rescission of state rules recognizing out-of-state OHV registrations and a battle at the federal level with allowing OHVs into Utah’s national parks.

The Moab City Council, in a discussion with the city’s legislative strategy consultant J. Casey Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 14, expressed to Hill a strong desire that he begin working with lawmakers in Salt Lake City on the city’s behalf to find a solution to the common complaint from locals about the noise caused by OHVs in Moab.

The topic of OHVs is a divisive one, and OHV users, including State Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, have angled to construe splits on the issue as cultural divisions, particularly during last year’s controversy over OHV usage in Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

In trying to address complaints about OHV noise with efforts on state legislation, the city will have to work with the OHV interest groups rather than against them to make it happen, according to Hill.

“It’s critical that you understand that they (OHV groups) have a very strong voice at the legislature,” Hill told the city council. “If I could make a recommendation: I strongly recommend your efforts with that group be in a proactive, ‘working together’ effort rather than an adversarial one.”

UTV Utah, one of the interest groups pushing for expansion of street legality for OHVs and allowances for OHVs on more trails around Utah, has over 15,000 members who have joined for free on the group’s website. The organization is currently collecting signatures online for a petition that seeks to allow OHVs in Utah’s national parks.

Mayor Emily Niehaus said of the matter that, although OHVs are a part of the recreation ecosystem in Moab, they are not the only ones.

“We are full of outdoor recreation down here, and that is one slice of our outdoor recreation pie,” Niehaus said. “I think we care a lot about the people in those businesses and that industry … there’s just clear conflict with them being street legal, and it’s a conflict that has maybe been noisier than the machines themselves.”

It remains to be seen whether and how the city can work with groups like UTV Utah to pass legislation that regulates their use in Moab or even the state at large. Although the strategy for tackling the issue is also in the air, the city’s interest in engaging the matter directly is clear.