Grand County, Utah, officials follow echoes of ‘Keep Everyone Safe’ during the pandemic
With its “Mighty Five” canyons closed to tourists during the pandemic, social distancing in sparsely populated Grand County, Utah, is even less of a problem than usual. But they still practice it, as well as all other preventive health regulations, said Cole Cloward, building inspector in Grand County and a member of the International Code Council’s Emerging Leaders Membership Council.
Cloward and Building Official William Hulse are the only two handling inspections for the county, seated in Moab. They’ll get 100 to 200 permit requests a year, he said, mostly housing; maybe a hotel or two. And he’ll do four or five inspections a day. Grand County went to all-electronic permitting years ago, he said, so closing up the building department to the public the week of March 16 hasn’t been an issue.
“We moved to web-based applications in 2012 so we are able to keep doing inspections and digital plan reviews, making it a little less difficult for these strange times,” Cloward said. “Our office is essentially ‘closed,’ but we are available for phone calls and emails. We are able to meet if an appointment is set up but we have been instructed to stay at least six feet away from others.”
They also insist there is only one person representing the contractor on-site when they come out. “We had a few complaints about people not complying on construction sites,” Cloward said. “But we just emailed them what they needed to do, and that took care of it.”
Some building departments throughout the country have opted to do virtual inspections during the quarantine, using Skype, Zoom or other video platforms that provide the ultimate in social distancing, while keeping building projects on track. That won’t work for Grand County, Cloward said. “Wi-Fi is iffy in spots up here,” he said. “You can drive along some spots of the Colorado River for 20 minutes and not get a signal.”
While business is running smoothly in their department, he said the county will have to make some tough financial decisions in the next few months after losing all that tourism. “There was a time when for a few months, the towns around here would just shut down because the tourists were gone,” he said. “But with the state pushing tourists to visit the ‘Mighty Five’ — Arches, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef — it’s been a constant stream of tourists the past few years.”
And they come from Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and China as well as from around the United States, he said, to hike, bike and four-wheel the canyons. Until the regional health department put an end to tourism the week of March 16. “They said if you were already booked you could finish your stay, but then you had to leave,” Cloward said. “And restaurants and bars were closed.”
These are difficult times, Cloward said, “but you do what you have to do, what you’re able to do. It’s quite a learning curve. But we have to keep everyone safe.”