County to amend mass gathering ordinance
Discussion amongst county leaders following the Symbiosis eclipse festival has prompted officials to consider an amended mass gathering ordinance.
The mass gathering ordinance requires application for approval of an event during which more than 3,000 people are expected to attend for a period of time 12 hours or longer. The ordinance subjects the applicant to a variety of conditions and is then reviewed by county officials.
The ordinance was utilized when Symbiosis event organizers applied to host an event for up to 30,000 people on private Big Summit Prairie land belonging to local property owner Craig Woodward.
"I was promised there wouldn't be more than 30,000 attendees, and they assured me they sold 28,000 tickets and had 2,000 left over for special people, and there would be no selling at the box office," Woodward recalls. "Some of the organizers have a strange relationship with the truth."
The event brought a much larger crowd than 30,000, with estimates ranging from 70,000 to more than 100,000 people. In addition, local law enforcement personnel said the event lacked sufficient security within the event, and traffic was severe enough that cars lined up for more than 30 miles waiting to enter the site.
Revision of the ordinance came as a result of sheriff's office and community development department personnel analyzing how the event unfolded.
"The intent of the ordinance changes is to still be consistent and compliant with state mass gathering law," said County Planning Director Ann Beier, "and be more protective of the county's interest as it relates to some of the aspects of our mass gathering ordinance based on our experiences this summer."
One primary change would provide the sheriff's office more authority to vet security personnel on site. Beier said that has been an issue at multiple gatherings, not just the Symbiosis event, and Crook County Sheriff John Gautney agreed that allowing that authority is critical.
"There is a change in fee structure proposed," Beier continued, "to make sure that the county actually can cover the costs of doing these larger-scale mass gatherings.
Assistant County Counsel Eric Blaine went on to note that the new ordinance would remove many of the contingencies built into the original law and instead give the county the authority to include the conditions as part of the approval process for each individual application. In addition, application approval will result in the county sending the applicant a permit as opposed to a letter of approval. The permit would include requirements from various county departments.
"It will be a more rigorous permit process, but one that we think will benefit both the applicant and the county," Beier said, "because the applicant will know exactly what is expected of them."
During a subsequent public hearing on the ordinance, John Giorgi voiced concerns that the new ordinance would lengthen the process for permit approval. Giorgi owns the ranch on which this summer's Lazy Rockin' Stirrup Country Music Festival took place, and he said event organizers hope to soon apply for a second event next year. He stressed that the Paulina-area festival was a success and did not cause the problems prompting the ordinance change.
Blaine, in response, said the timeframe from application to approval would actual decrease with the new ordinance. He noted that the application deadline would be allowed closer to the event date and the required notice to neighboring properties would be shortened from 30 days to 21.
Commissioner Jerry Brummer seemed to favor the proposed changes, making special note of the removal of contingencies in favor of addressing them during the county approval process.
"I like the idea of having it individualized and giving us a little bit of wiggle room," he said, adding that an event drawing 3,000 people should not be treated the same as one hosting 30,000.
The ordinance will undergo a second reading at the next Crook County Court meeting on Oct. 18. It features an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately upon approval, a decision made to provide potential applicants as much time as possible to obtain a permit.
"All of these things, I think we are going to get better at them," Brummer said of regulating mass gatherings. "No matter how many we have, we are going to see things we can do different and things we can do better."