by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Questions regarding Mud Fest safety requirements have again come before the County Board to iron out before the annual Memorial Day weekend event. A second smaller event is held over Labor Day weekend as well.
Members of the Rinkel family and others associated with Mud Fest LLC met with Sheriff Michel Wetzel during the first week of February to discuss requirements for this year’s events.
The subject was an agenda topic at Tuesday’s County Board planning meeting, although no action could be taken because the safety plan for the event application had not been approved by the sheriff’s office.
“The big issues are the four-wheelers and the truck parking,” said Adam Ripple of Rinke, Noonan in St. Cloud, hired by the Rinkel family to provide legal advice.
“We need a safety plan,” said Board Chair Duane Johnson. “If the sheriff approves it, we have no problem with it.”
“You had a variance in effect last year, but did not listen to it at that time,” said Commissioner Randy Winscher. “It was agreed upon to park the vehicles in the staging area.”
“I understood that the ordinance did not take effect until attendance was more than 500 people,” said Ralph Rinkel, son of event founder Ron Rinkel. “Right or wrong, that’s the way I perceived it.”
“That was wrong,” said County Attorney Brian Middendorf.
“The point is, for the security of every person at that event, there is no reason for trucks to go beyond the mud pit or staging area,” said Commissioner Jeff Jelinski. “For them to go beyond that is absolutely wrong.”
“This place has been so demonized; there have been no accidents on the property,” said Commissioner Don Meyer.
“Our history shows we have not had any incidents,” said Ralph Rinkel. “There have been no issues and no claims to our insurance company.”
“No one has been killed,” said Commissioner Kevin Maurer. “That’s good. Do you mean that we have to become more strict and rigorous only when someone gets killed?”
“The application in front of the Board is incomplete, because the safety plan has not been signed by the sheriff,” said Middendorf.
“It is not a safe deal for people to be driving when they have been drinking,” said Maurer. “A variance without the sheriff’s approval would put me, this Board and the county at liability.”
Ripple said, “Why are these conditions necessary if it’s just the sheriff’s personal feelings?”
Randy Bieler of Security Specialists, hired by the Rinkels to provide security for the event, said, “This is just hearsay because the sheriff is never seen out there.”
“I have been out to Mud Fest on more than one occasion,” said Wetzel. “At other times, I rely on the thorough and accurate reports of my deputies about what they see and experience at Mud Fest.”
“I’m not willing to question an officer’s credibility when they have sworn to tell the truth,” said Maurer.
“There’s too much made of this,” said Meyer. “People drive drunk all the time. Is it right? No, it’s not right, but you don’t stop people from buying liquor in Lastrup or Hillman.”
Several members of the Rinkel family said that 100 percent compliance with the mud truck parking area is difficult to maintain.
“If we don’t put in 100 percent compliance, then we leave a loophole,” said Maurer. “We want a solution, but we also want to prevent accidents.”
“We want to get off the stalemate,” said Ron Rinkel.
The large assembly ordinance was passed about five years ago and has also been used by groups other than Mud Fest.
“I’ve heard the same tired allegations from those directly connected to Mud Fest for years,” said Wetzel. “They are of course inaccurate, but that doesn’t stop some people from making them. My only interest in this event is to set reasonable conditions that minimize the risk of injury to those in attendance, as required by the county’s large assembly ordinance”
“I’m unaware of a business that provides products or services to the public that isn’t regulated in some fashion. Typically, businesses that create a higher potential for the public to experience harm or loss are subject to stricter regulations,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.
“I fully realize there may be differing opinions on what measures are required to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public during an event such as Mud Fest,” Gruber said. “Ultimately, the county is the regulatory authority in this instance and must apply necessary standards to meet those outcomes, whether all agree or not.”