During a Monday, Nov. 5 meeting in the Mateel Community Center, consultants laid out the some of the plans for Reggae on the River 2013. Paul Radman, of Redwood Construction Services and Steve Salzman, of Greenway Partners described plans to park cars along the banks of the Eel River, with a 50-foot setback to protect water quality.
They also plan to check incoming vehicles, and interview drivers, in hopes of identifying vehicles, which are leaking fossil fuels or other contaminants. Those vehicles will be parked further from the river, over absorbent "diapers" designed to facilitate cleanup and prevent old clunkers from fouling water quality.
On Monday, Nov. 19 several members of the Piercy community expressed doubts over whether that mitigation would be effective, and lodged other complaints about moving the festival back to it’s original venue at French’s Camp. Several businesses directly adjacent to the festival grounds also complained that they expect to suffer a financial loss during the festival - contrary to popular assumptions.
What they’ve described is in some ways similar, on a microscopic scale, to the local effects of hosting the Olympic games. While many sectors profit when their city hosts the Olympics, some entities spend more than they earn, frequently incurring massive debts. In this case, business owners are expecting reduced revenues and increased business costs during the festival - adversely affecting their profits from both sides.
ROTR is a cash cow for Southern Humboldt and Northern Mendocino, raising revenues for the MCC, as well as many schools and local non-profits. But the businesses directly adjacent to the festival grounds say they expect to lose money. One common concern they all held was security. If these local businesses have to hire private security to oversee their properties during the festival, it could put them in the red. Accordingly, they’re asking the MCC to hire professional security guards and station them in downtown Piercy to help prevent loitering, vandalism and shoplifting.
Being near the entrance to the festival will undoubtedly generate a crowd while ticket-holders are arriving, and while that would suggest that an increase in retail sales is likely - Piercy business owners don’t necessarily think that will happen. Some attendees will bring just enough money to purchase a ticket at the gate. Others may arrive with no tickets or money, and wait outside for a miracle.
Piercy business owners are also concerned that the festival’s traffic plan could restrict access to their shops for tourists passing by on Hwy. 101. If drivers are unable to make left-hand turns, then northbound drivers will be unable to stop at the Patriot gas station and southbound drivers will be unable to stop at the One Log House Espresso & Gifts or Thunderbird Mountain Trading Company. Drivers will still have the option of returning - but many are expected opt to keep traveling rather than turning around several miles up the road.
In a written statement from the owners of the Thunderbird Mountain Trading Company, they tell the MCC, "Since August is the height of our tourist season, we need access from both north and southbound lanes to not interfere with our tourist traffic ... There shouldn’t be any barricades to stop or hinder traffic flow for all of the businesses in our immediate area." They also pleaded for the MCC to provide 24-hour security before, during, and at the end of ROTR due to concerns about inventory loss.
Local residents are also concerned about overflow camping, for ticket holders who are unable to find lodging and would-be-festival goers who show up in Piercy without a ticket. In past years, neighbor Jessie Parson says he experienced problems with festivalgoers hiking onto his land, setting up camp, and refusing to leave. He’s asking the MCC to offer financial restitution for similar problems next year.
Cheri Porter-Keisner also shared Parson’s concerns about overflow camping, and asked the MCC to be proactive about monitoring the area around Piercy to prevent festival goers from setting up camp outside designated camping areas.
Throughout the process, representatives of the MCC and ROTR seemed receptive to complaints and concerns raised by stakeholders in the Piercy area - but the dialogue were often contentious, and occasionally combative. Keith Bowman, owner of the Cook’s Valley Campground and the Grandfather Tree and Paul Radman of Redwood Construction Services engaged in a heated debate over the festival’s traffic plan, each repeatedly contradicting the other’s assertions.
Vice president of the MCC’s board of directors Agnes Patak told one concerned citizen, "It’s okay - you can exaggerate," with a chuckle when he mentioned plans to have 10,000 people onsite at French’s Camp for ROTR 2014 - despite tentative plans to increase festival capacity to 10,500 people onsite if ROTR 2013 is a success.
Much of the current conflict over ROTR 2013 is based on the festival’s traffic plan, but as traffic consultant Radman pointed out - when it comes to traffic mitigations, they can only do what the California Highway Patrol will allow. By press time, last Friday, the CHP had not yet finalized their position on the matter.
Piercy’s stakeholders have not been shy about pressuring the Mateel to avoid handicapping local retailers - but it’s not at all clear that the Mateel is in a position to accommodate them.
The matter will go before the Humboldt County Planning Commission next week, Thursday, Dec. 6. At that time, more information will be available about the future of ROTR at French’s Camp and how it’s expected to impact the local economy.