It’s official: What the Festival is coming to Wasco County on July 26.
The Wasco County Board of Commissioners approved the county’s first-ever outdoor mass gathering permit for the music and art festival planned at Wolf Run Ranch outside Dufur for between 4,000 and 5,000 participants.
The May 8 meeting was a continuation of an earlier hearing, during which commissioners heard testimony from neighbors in opposition to the festival.
This time, however, there were also people who showed up in favor of the event.
“The positive benefits of a festival like this one are numerous,” said Darin Gardner, whose family owns of Taco Time in The Dalles. He said during last year’s smaller festival in Tygh Valley he saw an increase in business.
Arthur Smith, mayor of Dufur, said local merchants have told him they are excited about the prospect of a boost in business similar to the one they see during the Threshing Bee and the road rally.
“No one has approached me with any concerns,” he said.
Jana Webb of The Dalles came to the hearing on behalf of her brother, who allowed What the Festival to take place on his land last year and was pleased with the results. She said she thought he was crazy but she was wrong — the event “went off very well” and she was impressed by the organizers.
Not all of the comments were positive. Several neighbors voiced or reiterated concerns about fire danger, traffic, trespassers and noise. David Wherly said, according to the extension office, rainfall in the area around Dufur has been about two thirds of the average and the deficit isn’t likely to be made up before July.
“What’s the value to the community of an activity that clearly puts our homes and livelihoods at greater risk with no benefit?” he asked.
Peter Livingston, an attorney representing landowner Ken Thomas, brought up a number of ways in which he believed the venture was in violation of state law. He said organizers were already making permanent alterations to the land and advertising the event even though they hadn’t gotten a permit yet.
He said the “driveway” being constructed as a second access point was in violation of a land use agreement. He also stated that the water rights for the property were for “human consumption and household uses,” and showers for thousands of campers didn’t fall into those categories.
John Roberts, county planning director, said that the driveway being constructed was legal, and also said that such issues were a land use question to be considered separately from the mass gathering permit.
Joey Shearer, a county planner, said he had spoken to the water master who said the water rights for the property did allow for planned uses such as watering down fields prior to the event. Event organizers also agreed to truck in water to reduce the burden on the well.
Marty Matherly said even though neighbors were worried equipment trucks and extra traffic would damage Dufur Valley Road, the road was built with the expectation that log trucks would be hauling timber down it regularly.
Event organizers said they had done their best to alleviate concerns brought up in the last meeting. They had a contract for two fire trucks and professional crews to be on the property 24 hours a day if fire dangers reached past a certain level on the week of the event. They also increased the amount of insurance for the event, including policies to help protect Wasco County and the roads.
Glen Boyd, owner of Wolf Run Ranch, said advertising for the event did not violate state statues because they had sold less than 3,000 tickets, the limit before an event needs a mass gathering permit. He said organizers had exceeded requirements on everything from waste disposal to security, and comparisons to Woodstock weren’t apt.
“Let me put Woodstock in context: There were 400,000 people, no sanitation, no security … we are highly engaged with authorities to address any health and safety concerns,” Boyd said.
Teri Thalhofer, director of North Central Public Health, said even though departments like the roads department and sheriff’s office were satisfied there were still public health issues that needed resolved. She said the event was taking up a lot of time for public health and many of those costs were not being recouped through fees.
Eventually county commissioner Steve Kramer made a motion to approve the outdoor mass gathering permit, saying he had heard from a large number of people who were in favor of allowing the festival.
Commissioner Rod Runyon said he had been to many similar events as a participant and considered last year’s What the Festival “one of the best I’ve seen.” Scott Hege said that the original event was well-run and improvements had been made since.
“I think they have gone far beyond what my expectations were as far as working with us,” he said.
Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the permit.