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Town pushes back against 4-day music festival

BEND — A four-day country music festival that organizers say could bring thousands to the small ranching community of Paulina next summer sparked pushback from residents when the Crook County Court approved the event's permit last week.

The Lazy Rockin' Stirrup Country Music Festival, scheduled to take place on the John Giorgi Ranch near Paulina from June 29 to July 2, will feature comedians Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy, according to festival organizer Tammy Van Vleet, who is John Giorgi's daughter. Three music acts have yet to be announced, the festival's website states, and Van Vleet said up to 3,500 people could attend — a number she bases on average crowd attendance at Foxworthy's performances.

But the festival, which started selling tickets last week via its website, has opposition among Paulina residents. They say the event will be too big and too loud for their remote community, population 123 or so. They also say Paulina, located about an hour east of Prineville, just isn't equipped to handle the safety concerns and disruption that many people could bring with them to the area.

"A little town is being brought to Paulina, dropped right next door, and picked up the following week and taken away," said Tyler Groo, a Paulina resident. "If things happen during that week, the community won't able to respond in a timely manner."

"A concern is that this is a rural community with not a lot of services available, and we're bringing in a festival that might be better suited to a different area," Crook County Planning Director Ann Beier said.

Last week, the Crook County Court approved a mass gathering permit for the festival, which will be held on 13 acres of Giorgio's 2,500- acre ranch that's about 8 miles east of Paulina. During the meeting, court members said whether or not the festival actually takes place will depend on if organizers complete a list of 20 conditions, including submitting crowd and traffic control plans to the appropriate county departments three months before the festival, as well as putting down a security deposit. During the meeting, court members denied Van Vleet's request to allow fireworks, campfires and ATVs at the festival.

The vote to approve the permit followed a public comment period that brought Paulina residents to the Crook County Courthouse to speak out against it. Comments focused on various concerns and potential consequences, expressed at both the court meeting and also during a community meeting last week where 20 other residents spoke out and signed a petition against the event.

"I would hope that I'd look over on the hill and everybody would be arm in arm singing 'Kumbaya,'" said Susan Hermreck, a Paulina resident and Crook County Planning Commission member. "But I tell you what — I think there's a lot of serious consequences that could happen in our rural area when we stretch ourselves this thin."

For instance, meeting attendees said that festivalgoers, who will be camping for four days near the Ochoco National Forest the weekend before July 4 and have access to alcohol, could inadvertently start a wildfire. The remoteness of the community would delay the response time of law enforcement and emergency services that might become necessary, they said.

Additionally, state Highway 380, which connects Paulina to Prineville, isn't built to handle an influx of thousands, Crook County rancher Phil Hartzel pointed out.

"One of the biggest concerns is the traffic that's going out there," Hartzell, said. "That road is not maintained well enough for that amount of traffic. . What's going to happen when this thing is over? Where are these people going to go?"

Van Vleet, the president of a Corvallis-based company called Aloha Productions that produces cheerleading events around the country, said she's taking the concerns of residents into account.

During the meeting Van Vleet ran through a laundry list of answers to residents' worries. These included bringing a fire marshal out to do a walk-through of the ranch, having a fire engine on site during the festival and creating two or three access roads to enter and exit the festival grounds.

"We want to promote the rural way of life, we want to promote ranching," she said. "We're embracing that completely."