Friday, February 28, 2014

Will MASSV leave town for south county ranch?

Permitting would require waivers from County Commission

Express Staff Writer

The Van Der Meulen ranch southwest of Bellevue, above, is under consideration as the new site of the annual MASSV music and arts festival. Courtesy photo

     The popular Music and Art Showcase of Sun Valley (MASSV) festival founded in Ketchum in 2012 could take place in July at the sprawling Van Der Meulen ranch south of Bellevue, if festival organizers can convince county leaders and emergency response personnel that it will be a safe event.

     Organizers are on a tight schedule to comply with county codes to gain approval for the two-day event, which they say could attract 5,000 people, many of whom would be camping out in a field some distance away from the music stage. They have not yet filed an application with the county.

     For two years, the MASSV shows brought an eclectic mix of music to Ketchum, along with a youthful parade of art culture, including fire orb twirlers, neon butterfly bikes, alien-like DJs, laser light shows and aerialists.

     The challenges faced by emergency response personnel charged with handling such an entourage might seem easier in the city than it would be seven miles south of Bellevue on dirt roads, but one fire chief said the site could work.

     “From my initial visit to the location, it seems like a pretty doable thing,” said Wood River Fire and Rescue Chief Bart Lassman. “I don’t know all the things that go on at these events, and so I am not sure what their needs are.”

     About 100 festival supporters attended a presentation to the Blaine County Commission on Tuesday, led by real estate agent John Sofro, who aggressively said the county should support the event. He recommended changing county laws to make it feasible, saying they were created to prevent concerts at Clarendon Hot Springs many years ago.

     “If you are trying to inspire confidence, I am not that pleased so far,” said County Commission Chairman Larry Schoen. “Clearly, we have a process and the problem is that you are very late in making an application. Even yesterday you were not sure what the zoning was on the property.”

     Sheriff Gene Ramsey recommended that the commission not change laws, but instead take a look at the safety issues that such a large event would bring.

Our goal is to be an
alcohol- and
drug-free event.”
Brent Russell

     “They came in last fall and were given a copy of the ordinance,” said Ramsey in an interview. “There may be still time, but they will have to nail down some specifics.”

     According to Ramsey, assemblies of more than 750 people on the property would trigger strict permitting requirements, including the provision of portable toilets, water, telephone service, vendor certifications and parking plans. The event would also have to provide lighting and up to 20 security people, vetted and approved by the Sheriff’s Office prior to the event.

     “We would still need to have law enforcement on the site,” said Ramsey, perhaps including an officer “substation” that he said he would rather the county not pick up the cost for.

     Ramsey said his initial concerns relate to the potential hazard that up to 1,600 automobiles entering and exiting Glendale Road could create.

     “There would need to be some kind of traffic control when you have that many cars exiting and entering a very quiet county road,” he said.

     Ramsey said the festival would pose fewer challenges if the event took place adjacent to a city because there would be ready access to city infrastructure, such as when the Dalai Lama spoke at the Wood River High School football field in Hailey in 2005.

     “When the Dalai Lama was here, there were many details put into place,” Ramsey said.

     Lassman said he is confident that many of his concerns can be met by festival organizers.

     “They are pretty self-supportive as far as medical goes. They bring in their own nurses and physicians in a medical tent,” Lassman said. Based on an initial site visit, he said there would be a one-way traffic pattern for automobiles into and out of the ranch, including an ambulance, if needed.

     On Tuesday, Lassman expressed concern to the commission that a fire in the area could create a dangerous “mass exodus” of people from the site.

     “I am a little concerned about the public land that surrounds the private property,” Lassman said in an interview. “People who do not pay to get in might want to have their own little spike camp in the hills with a campfire.”

     Lassman said he is not sure if a fire engine could be on stand-by during the event.

     “As little a burden on the taxpayer as possible, the better,” he said. “If they bring the personnel with them, like an incident management team, it could be very helpful. Every weekend is busy here. We are asked to cover rodeos, bike races and other events that are closer to the core.”

     Sofro said the festival organizers would
“meet or exceed” any county requirements.

     Festival organizer Brent Russell, who is a doctor, addressed concerns raised by Ketchum residents that the MASSV festival brought a lot of drug and alcohol consumption to town, and that it was a dangerous event for young people to attend.

     Russell said he would work with Blaine County Drug Coalition representatives to address the concerns, and would provide an adults-only “beer garden” within the festival boundaries to abide by drinking laws.

     Russell said all people and automobiles would be searched before entering the festival.

     “Our goal is to be an alcohol- and drug-free event,” he said.


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