More outdoor festivals in Oregon could be subject to restrictions aimed at reducing farm impacts under a bill being considered by lawmakers.

Currently, outdoor events must obtain conditional use permits if they’re attended by more than 3,000 people for longer than five days.

Otherwise, they’re subject to county health and safety rules but not land use restrictions.

Under House Bill 2790, the threshold would be altered so that any gatherings with more than 3,000 participants would need permits requiring county land use review, regardless of their duration.

Supporters argue the bill will provide farmers with a voice when county governments are considering events that may interfere with agricultural practices such as moving machinery along roads.

“None of us are against these types of events,” said Troy Jones, a farm owner in Linn County. “It’s more in line with making sure it fits the area they propose to have it in.”

Before issuing a conditional use permit, counties determine whether a non-farm use causes significant changes to farm practices and may impose measures to mitigate those impacts.

Under a proposed amendment to HB 2790, individual counties could choose whether they want to subject any outdoor mass gathering to the permit process.

The revision was proposed because such events are seen as posing fewer problems in counties east of the Cascade Mountains versus those in Western Oregon, where intensive cropping activities are more likely to be disrupted by festival-goers.

“Most outdoor events occur during our harvest because here in Oregon that’s your best chance of good weather,” said Audry Raschein, a Marion County farmer, during a March 12 legislative hearing.

George Meyer, a farmer with operations in Marion and Linn counties, said growers face time pressure to harvest grass seed before rain or wind knocks it from straw.

Delays caused by outdoor festivals held during critical times may substantially reduce yields and profits, said Meyer, whose neighbor planned to hold a controversial music festival last year.

“We weren’t blinded by all of the wonderful things it would bring to our community. Instead, we were worried about traffic, fire danger and mostly how we would be able to continue farming,” he said.

Some of the testimony before the House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use took a positive outlook on outdoor mass gatherings, highlighting the boost that past events have brought to the local economy.

“We have to diversify our economy and tourism is the way to do that,” said Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte.

A mass gathering that coincided with the 2017 solar eclipse was credited with bringing substantial business to Oregon’s Crook County, though the large number of participants clogged local roads.

Under House Bill 2977, an event located 60 miles away from an interstate highway would have additional time beyond five days for people to enter and leave the venue.

Similar language is contained in the proposed amendment to HB 2790, with the added provision that the event cannot be held on high-value farmland.

Events in remote rural areas cannot reasonably be held to the same standard regarding ingress and egress as those in regions with better road infrastructure, said Seth Crawford, the judge for Crook County.

“Additional time on either end of the event would help alleviate this issue,” he said.

I've been working at Capital Press since 2006 and I primarily cover legislative, regulatory and legal issues.

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