Brian Nicholson, El Observador de Utah
MOAB — For seven years, Travis Kelly has lived — content as can be — in a bus on a plot of agricultural land in Moab, using solar panels for electricity and disposing of his waste like "tourists that stay in camps along the river."
He says his living arrangement is an environmentally friendly way to save money and stay in touch with nature. His way of life is stirring up trouble in Grand County, however. Moab city officials have asked him and others like him to pick up and move somewhere else.
About a dozen people live in buses parked along the banks of the Colorado River on Kane Creek Road. Though they've long made Moab their home, they only recently came to the county's attention. Census 2010 workers informally reported the bus dwellers to the county so they could accurately mark the inhabited places of the county, Kelly said.
The battle started when officers of Grand County sent residents notice that they must remove their vehicles, which were located in an agricultural and not residential area.
"There are a number of issues," said Gene Ciarus, a member of the Grand County Council. "One is that they have been living in a flood zone. Another is that there are no sanitary services available where they have been living."
Residents were given a deadline of Aug. 18 to evacuate. By Sept. 23, most of the buses had been moved to private sites, but people can no longer live in them.
"It's a joke," Kelly said. , "Now they argue that we do not have the means to dispose of human waste when we use the same system used by tourists that stay in camps along the river."
Kelly, who is a graphic designer, chooses to live in a bus because he wanted to be more in touch with nature, he said. He bought his bus for $4,000 and spent $2,000 remodeling it to serve as a home. Later, he added solar panels, which represented another significant investment.
"I live with 10 percent of the energy used by a single person in an apartment in the center of the city," Kelly said.
For others, though, camping out in a bus is not so much a lifestyle choice as it is an economic solution. Though they live in Grand County year round, some of Moab's bus dwellers are considered "temporary workers" and live well below the poverty line.
"We are temporary workers here in Moab because there only is work over the summer," said Dre Carman, who lives in a bus in a mobile home park. "Our salaries are ridiculous compared to the others, and our expenses are as if we were tourists."
Carman works as a tour guide and holds a part-time job at a craft store. He makes about $14,000 a year. Although his bus is parked in a residential zone, he still faces evacuation because, he said, county officials "disagree with my lifestyle."
The bus inhabitants compare their homes with mobile homes. They are being persecuted, they said, because they have set up permanent residence in their buses.
County representatives argue, however, that there are plenty of affordable housing options that "have the proper facilities."
"Grand County, like other places because of the economy, does have a lot of high-cost housing," Ciarus said. "However, there are rentals available in the county that don't cost much more than what they are paying right now to live in their buses."
The county has also approved a zone change that will facilitate more low-income housing but, he said, "these things take time to be built."
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