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Catch up on the week in Mid-Valley news from March 4-8. Statesman Journal

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Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill that would give counties more power to decide whether farms can host huge, multi-day music festivals.

The proposal was prompted by events surrounding the Willamette Country Music Festival, which wanted to hold a five-day, 60,000-attendee concert next to Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge just south of Salem.

Marion County Commissioners denied the proposal last year after neighbors, farmers and environmental groups expressed concerns about traffic tie-ups, interference with farming operations, theft, vandalism and negative impacts on the refuge’s wildlife.

The concert stayed in Linn County, where it has been held for a decade, but turned disastrous when vendors and volunteer groups went unpaid, and assaults and other crimes skyrocketed. Linn County Commissioners subsequently revoked the festival’s permit.

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House Bill 2790 would clarify that gatherings of more than 3,000 people on exclusive farm use properties are land-use decisions requiring a conditional-use permit.

That means counties could consider the impact on neighboring farms when deciding whether to grant a permit. It also means that appeals of permit denials would go to the Land Use Board of Appeals, rather than to the county Circuit Court.  

Marion County was able to reject the Willamette Country Music Festival because it already requires a conditional use permit.

The number of very large gatherings on farms and ranches is increasing, said Meriel Darzen, an attorney for 1000 Friends of Oregon.

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“We’re not trying to ban the events at all, and we’re not trying to impact agritourism events,” Darzen said at a public hearing on the bill this week. “Very large events on resource land should be treated as non-resource uses subject to land use review.”

A proposed amendment, which is likely to be adopted, would make it optional, rather than mandatory, for counties to put the concert applications through a land-use process.

It also would incorporate a separate bill applying to large gatherings held more than 60 miles away from an interstate highway.

House Bill 2977 was prompted by problems at the Symbiosis eclipse festival in August 2017, which caused a 30-mile, 15-hour traffic backup. Approximately 50,000 people attended the festival.

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“The thousands of people that traveled to attend the festival caused the smaller roads and feeder highways to just come to a crawl,” said the bill’s sponsor, Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland.

The legislation would expand the five-day limit on such events to allow more time for attendees to get in and out on the smaller highways.

“It really to me is not fair to hold us to the same standards when we don’t have that similar infrastructure,” said Seth Crawford, Crook County Judge.

Contact the reporter at tloew@statesmanjournal.com, 503-399-6779 or follow at Twitter.com/Tracy_Loew

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