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No county permit needed for Eelpout Festival

BACKUS — The off-again, on-again requirement for Eelpout Festival organizers to apply for Cass County’s Lawful Assembly Ordinance is off-again.

The Eelpout Festival is scheduled to take place next weekend at the city park in Walker, with people fishing for eelpout on the ice on adjacent Leech Lake.

In January, the county board voted against reviewing the ordinance or considering any changes to it. This action, County Attorney Christopher Strandlie told the board at that time, effectively required Eelpout Festival promoters to obtain a county lawful assembly permit. That vote was a 3-2 split vote, with commissioners Jim Dowson and Neal Gaalswyk voting against the permit requirement.

Tuesday, the board reversed itself on a unanimous vote. The board placed a temporary moratorium on enforcing the ordinance for any event on water (lake or ice) and calling for a review of the ordinance.

The county’s 2004 Lawful Assembly Ordinance currently requires a county permit for events involving an admission charge and expected participation of 300 or more people on “the site, lot, field, lake or tract of land…upon which the exhibition, show or assembly is conducted for more than eight consecutive hours…”

Eelpout promoter Jim Gerchy does obtain a city of Walker permit to stage events in the city park. He maintains he should not be required to obtain the county permit, because, while participants fish on the lake, he only sets up his event tents and related facilities in the city park that is under city jurisdiction.

Gerchy also obtains a permit from the sheriff’s office, as required by a state statute.

 Eelpout Festival became an issue two year ago, when representatives from the sheriff’s office complained to the board that refuse, garbage and the contents of portable potties were left for sentence to serve crews to clean up after the event. They also objected to the county providing extra law enforcement without financial support from Eelpout promoters.

Cass’s Lawful Assembly Ordinance requires promoters to post a bond and stipulates clean up and law enforcement requirements.

Tuesday, Sheriff Tom Burch told the board that under the sheriff’s permit, he can write requirements for clean-up and law enforcement during an event. He said he will require Gerchy to make a $5,000 deposit to ensure clean up this year.

County staff will review the existing ordinance and recommend changes to the board at a future regular meeting.