by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
The Morrison County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday, to approve this year’s Mud Fest application by a vote of three to two. The application included a variance outlining a safety plan which did not have the approval of the County Sheriff.
Mud Fest representatives met with Sheriff Michel Wetzel and County Administrator Deb Gruber Feb. 14, to review the application which had been submitted to the county. Added to that application was a variance request which included a detailed safety plan.
Despite additions to the safety plan, it was not approved by the sheriff due to continued concern over reduced manpower availability on Memorial Day weekend and “the potential dangers associated with putting ATVs, mud trucks, and thousands of people, many of whom are highly intoxicated, in close proximity to each other,” Wetzel said.
A motion to approve the application with conditions and variances was made by Commissioner Don Meyer and seconded by Commissioner Randy Winscher. Meyer, Winscher and Commissioner Duane Johnson approved the motion, while Commissioners Kevin Maurer and Jeff Jelinski voted no.
“A lengthy discussion was held during the board meeting regarding the Mud Fest application,” said Gruber. “Ultimately, the permit was granted for the Memorial Day event only and issued with a number of conditions that need to be met.”
Discussion at the meeting included a presentation from the Rinkels and a summary from Wetzel on past observations leading to the ATV prohibition.
Conditions which need to be met include fencing and lighting variances agreed to for past events, which are still in effect. Calcium chloride will be applied on the road on either side of two driveways to keep dust down.
In addition to last year’s condition of having mud truck operators sign a waiver allowing for a preliminary breath test (PBT) whenever requested by deputies, the PBT waiver will also be signed by ATV operators this year.
There will be staff from Security Specialists Inc., which provides security for the event, specifically dedicated to ATV security and safety.
“I think there’s give and take in everything in life,” said Meyer. “They’re doing their best to do a good job. I have a lot of respect for Security Specialists, who do a lot of events all over the state.”
“My decision was based on information that was presented to me over the past few weeks, including the new additions imposed in the ordinance,” Winscher said. “I feel Mud Fest’s safety requirements have been substantially increased.”
Johnson, who had said in a meeting the week before, “We need a safety plan. If the sheriff approves it, we have no problem with it,” changed his mind.
“Everybody’s trying to work together,” Johnson said. “The Rinkels got through a bunch of the stuff. Everybody’s got to compromise a little bit. They know we’re watching them, and they only got one permit, for the May event. We just can’t tie people’s hands so tight.”
The Large Assembly Ordinance provides flexibility for the Board. Section 6, Subd. 2 allows for the Board to consider requests for variances from any of the requirements, said Gruber. Section 7, Subd. 4 allows for the Board to impose any additional conditions they deem necessary. The full ordinance is available for review on the county Web site under ‘Government’ then ‘County Ordinance – Assemblages Ordinance,’ she said.
“I could not vote in favor of something that specifically goes against a county ordinance. I am concerned about the liability for those I represent by allowing the event to proceed without a security plan authorized by the chief law enforcement officer of the county,” Jelinski said. “It is my opinion that without an approved plan in place it opens up a liability for the entire county.”
“The ordinance which was updated and approved by the Board in 2009, is very clear in it’s requirement that the Morrison County Sheriff needs to approve a security plan that provides for the necessary safety of all those in attendance and the public,” said Maurer.
Maurer emphasized that the large assemlbly ordinance indicates that a variance may not be granted by the Board if to do so would not meet the requirement of being approved by the sheriff’s office.
“Considering all of the issues and concerns brought to the attention of the Board, I am very concerned for the safety of attendees and residents,” Maurer said. “I have found that the best way to address issues of this nature is to put major effort into prevention, because once someone dies or is hurt seriously, it’s too late.”
“After updating the Board on the history of trouble we’ve seen at Mud Fest, and advising them I didn’t believe the security plan was sufficient, the Board decided on a split vote to issue a permit anyway, which is their prerogative,” said Wetzel. “I’ll do what we are capable of to monitor compliance.”
“Obviously, some of the County Board members are willing to give Mud Fest organizers another chance, so the ball is in their court now,” said County Attorney Brian Middendorf. “They made a lot of promises to the Board about how they will safely manage their event. If they don’t follow through, I suspect the Board won’t be happy. Hopefully, it will be a successful event, and everyone will stay healthy and safe.”
A second application for the Labor Day Mud Fest event will need to be submitted following the Memorial Day event.
Other business that came before the Morrison County Board Tuesday included:
• Hearing a report from Social Services on the reduction of out-of-home placements of children in the county from 98 in 2008 to 66 in 2012;
• Approving the addition of a social worker in the child and family unit of Social Services, a position which is already funded. “Our expense line item will not change,” said Brad Vold, Social Services supervisor. “This work has already cut more than the position will cost, and will hopefully continue to reduce out-of-home placements and reduce trauma to children;”
• Approving a seasonal establishment license for Fish Trap Lake Campground;
• Approving a maintenance agreement between Xerox and the Minnesota Counties Computer Co-op (MCCC) from Jan. 24 through Dec. 31, 2020;
• Approving an exempt permit for Ramey Morrill Lions Club for an event March 24 at St. Joseph Church Hall;
• Approving the repurchase of property from Altair Inc. in Pulaski Township;
• Approving the first capital equipment purchases per county budget committee recommendation;
• Approving the low bid for aggregate production at the landfill to DLL Excavating for $76,255;
• Approving agreements between the county and Little Falls Township for work on Harness Road and 170th Avenue; between the county and Bellevue Township for work on 170th Avenue and between the county and city of Little Falls for work on county state aid highway (CSAH) 76;
• Approving the Public Works Department’s 2013 work plan, to advertise for the work to be done;
• Approving a labor agreement with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) effective Jan. 1;
• Approving the hiring of an administrative support specialist in the Administration Department in line with a reformation of the department positions following the departure of Connie Waytashek.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Morrison County Commissioners will be Tuesday, March 5 at 9 a.m. in the board room at the County Government Center.