For 2018, Bi-Mart wants to move its annual Country Music Festival from Brownsville, Oregon to farmland adjacent to the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge near Salem.
[Update: the Statesman Journal has a story about the festival, "Willamette Country Music Festival's move to Marion County raises concerns about refuge." Here's how it starts off.]
Organizers of the Bi-Mart Willamette Country Music Festival want to move the four-day event to Marion County and more than double its size, to as many as 60,000 attendees per day.
But opposition is building over the proposed location: 692 acres of farmland bordering Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, 12 miles south of Salem.
Opponents, including neighbors, farmers and birders, say the event has the potential to create miles-long traffic backups on Interstate 5 and through the refuge; increase theft, vandalism, litter and the likelihood of accidents at the refuge and surrounding farms; and harm wildlife at the refuge.
The for-profit event, staged in Brownsville for the past 10 years, offers camping and boasts more than 30 acts. This year they include Alabama, Kid Rock and Lady Antebellum.
The I-5 freeway exit closest to the event is the Ankeny Hill exit, shown in the upper right corner. There would be additional parking areas in other spots not shown on this image. You can download the application via the link below.
Since the organizers are estimating 40,000 to 60,000 people would attend the four day event -- August 16-19, 2018 -- and opponents of the festival say it could be as many as 70,000, this is shaping up to be a major controversy. Even though the festival would bring money into Salem and Albany, it also could cause some major traffic, environmental, and other problems.
An Albany Democrat-Herald story about the festival's application to Marion County for a Outdoor Mass Gathering says:
"Our goal is to leave the property, always, in condition equal to or better than it was when we arrived," the permit application states.
The application estimates the economic impact of the four-day festival, as measured by tourism groups, at more than $3.5 million annually to the local economy.
Since its beginnings in Brownsville more than a decade ago, the festival has requested volunteer help from schools and mid-valley nonprofits, providing more than $250,000 each year in return.
My wife is active with a group of people, including farmers in the area, who are opposing moving the Country Music Festival from Brownsville. She's heard that the reasons this is being attempted is to be able to have a bigger venue so more people could attend the festival, and because volunteers in the Brownsville area are burning out, so festival organizers want to start fresh in a new place.
We live close to the Ankeny Wildlife Refuge. Here's a map my wife made which shows the refuge (in green) and where the festival's stage, camping, and parking would be located. "Creeks" is printed at the bottom of the map.
This is a traffic flow map included in the Outdoor Mass Gathering application. Festival attendees would take the Talbot Road and Ankeny Hill exits, and also would arrive from points north by taking Liberty Road S, which becomes Buena Vista when it reaches the edge of the refuge.
So lots of vehicles would be traveling on roads adjacent to and through the refuge for the four days of the festival.
Marion County is having a hearing on the festival's Outdoor Mass Gathering permit application on December 20 at 4 pm in the Senator Hearing Room on the first floor of Courthouse Square in downtown Salem.
Download Mass Gathering Hearing Notice
This seems suspiciously close to Christmas.
A fact which gives me reason to believe that the three Republican Marion County Commissioners aren't eager to have a big crowd of farmers, environmentalists, and lefties come out to urge the permit be denied. There's no email address in the Hearing Notice to which testimony for or against the Mass Gathering Permit should be sent, but I'm pretty sure it is email@example.com
Reportedly the Hearing Officer will produce a report by January 31, and the Board of Commissioners will make a decision on the Mass Gathering Permit by February 28.
If the permit is denied by the Board of Commissioners, apparently the 2018 Bi-Mart Willamette Country Music Festival would be held at the Brownsville location. Or, the organizers could appeal the denial.
Here's a brief video that accompanied the Statesman Journal story mentioned above.