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Revisions made were prompted by how events unfolded this summer during the eclipse

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - The Symbiosis eclipse event held in late August was permitted for about 35,000 people, but between 70,000 and 100,000 people attended the festival.

The Crook County Court approved revisions to its mass gathering ordinance Wednesday in an attempt to clarify what is required of applicants going forward.

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, with a limit of five days. The ordinance subjects the applicant to a variety of conditions and is then reviewed by county officials.

Community Development Director Ann Beier explained that the requirements are intended to make sure that events have the staff and services they need to make gatherings safe without overtaxing county services such as the sheriff's office or emergency management.

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.

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," Beier said when the changes were introduced in October, "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."

Because the local ordinance is based on state law, Beier said the changes that were approved Wednesday were somewhat limited.

"The changes allow applicants to submit an application within 90 days of the start of the event, rather than 180 days," she said. "It clarifies information that the applicant needs to submit regarding the event. It provides discretion to County Court to establish a cash deposit amount based on the size of the event and past performance of the event organizer(s). It outlines specific penalties for violations of permit conditions."

Beier said the ordinance revisions should make the permitting process, requirements and expectation clearer for all permit applicants, and the county received few comments from the public regarding the changes.

"We did receive comments from property owners who have hosted events in the past," she said. "They cautioned the County Court against shifting the burden from the event organizers to the property owners and also reminded the court that these events generated an economic benefit for the community."

The eclipse generated a lot of interest from property owners who wanted to host gatherings, Beier said, and it is hard to tell if the trend of mass gatherings will continue into the future, and to what extent.

"We currently don't have any proposals for next summer," she remarked.

The ordinance revision received a unanimous vote of approval and was passed with an emergency clause, and will go into effect immediately.

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