Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Will DeMarco
Gazette Reporter 

Revised outdoor amusements ordinance gets county approval


August 23, 2018 | View PDF

The Whitman County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed a “complete re-write” of the Outdoor Amusements or Assemblies Ordinance at their Monday meeting.

The ordinance aims to regulate large events and gatherings in the unincorporated areas of Whitman County by requiring prior approval from the county and other local agencies, as well as a sliding permit fee based on the size of the event.

In doing so, the county seeks to protect the safety and well-being of county land and residents during large gatherings, while not over-regulating small family or neighborhood gatherings.

The Outdoor Amusements/Assemblies Ordinance recently came under public scrutiny during “Weedstock 2018,” which was the first time the regulation had been applied since its implementation in 2007.

More than 1,300 people attended the three-day camping, music and marijuana festival in a field south of Colfax along Union Flat Creek April 20.

The Whitman County Sheriff’s Office reported 10 arrests in the immediate area over the course of Weedfest. They included four for driving with a suspended license and three for outstanding warrants.

No arrests or citations were issued for smoking marijuana in public.

After neighbors and county officials voiced concerns about the event, landowners Penny and Gerald Gilchrist tried to shut down Weedfest in the days leading up to it, but a loophole in the ordinance left them powerless.

The previous version of the Outdoor Amusements/Assemblies Ordinance required a permit for an event in an unincorporated area of Whitman County which expected 250 or more people to attend and charged for admission. However – as was the case for Weedstock 2018 – events expecting 250-plus attendees, but which did not charge admission were not required to have a permit.

Commissioner Art Swannack, who was largely responsible for re-writing the ordinance, pointed to Weedfest as one example of the original draft’s major issues, but noted he began working on updating the ordinance back in 2013. Swannack said the original bill was too ambiguous overall and did not provide an adequate system for dealing with permit approvals and enforcement.

Commissioner Michael Largent praised the new ordinance.

“We’re in a far better place with this than we are without it,” Largent said.

He explained the board will monitor the implementation of the ordinance and “insert common sense as need be” should issues arise.

The newly-signed ordinance will not regulate gatherings of 300 people or less, but reads that events exceeding this amount “are a potential cause of concern with regards to public health” and require prior approval.

According to the ordinance, applicants requesting a permit to host an event must submit a proposal at least 60 days in advance to Board of Commissioners. If everything’s up to the board’s standards, commissioners will grant preliminary approval within 45 days and turn the proposal over to local agencies who will inspect the facilities to ensure compliance with county health and safety codes.

Fees associated with filing a permit follow a fee schedule outlined in the new ordinance which ranges from $300-$10,000 depending on the size of the event. Compared with the previous version, the new ordinance’s fee schedule contains higher costs except at the highest end.

Applications for a permit must also include a “reasonable estimate” of the number of attendees expected at the event. If the actual amount in attendance exceeds the original estimate by 20 percent, the new ordinance grants landowners, local officials and law enforcement the authority to prohibit further access.

This provides greater capacity to control an event’s size if it gets out of hand as compared with the previous ordinance, which only granted the county sheriff the discretion to require the event’s sponsor to limit admission.

Failure to comply with the ordinance or failure to acquire the necessary proper permit prior to holding an event will result in a misdemeanor charge and a civil fine of $5,000 or equivalent to the cost of the required permit.


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