BACKUS -- Walker and Cass County officials met Oct. 31 to lay the groundwork to set a joint policy to minimize garbage and bathroom residue from going into lakes.
The meeting was a lead-up to setting rules for this winter’s Eelpout Festival, scheduled for Feb. 20-23 on Leech Lake. The result also likely will apply to any event hosted on surface waters.
Mayor Ed Shaw, City Council Member Gary Wilkening and county commissioners Scott Bruns and Dick Downham comprise the committee, which ultimately will recommend city council and county board action.
Eelpout Festival is required annually to obtain a surface water permit from the sheriff’s office for activities on Leech Lake and to comply with the county’s lawful assembly ordinance that applies to any large gathering of people.
For many years, county staff cleaned garbage, including human waste, from the ice after event organizers said they had cleaned up after Eelpout. Some years, Sentence to Service jail inmates were drafted to help.
More recently, the county began requiring event organizers to hire their own garbage cleanup service and to provide portable bathroom facilities during the event. That was much more successful, officials said.
The committee reported Tuesday, Nov. 19, to the Cass County Board, its preliminary thinking this year will be to require the city and county to approve the promoter’s trash cleanup and sanitation plans as a condition of the water surface permit approval and prior to the city approving a street closure for locating an event tent on land adjacent to the lake.
The committee showed interest in encouraging vendors to locate on land rather than on the lake and for seeing the water surface permit to be limited to 23 hours for the fishing contest only.
Bruns reported the committee agreed the county will rescue only people in the future and not vehicles or fish houses or other equipment that gets stuck or goes through the ice.
Last year during the festival, the ice flooded then froze, freezing trucks, fish houses and everything else into the ice over one night.
Cass spent $11,675, according to Administrator Joshua Stevenson, to help people get their equipment off the ice. The county was not reimbursed by either the event promoter or those whose equipment froze in the ice.
The committee agreed the lake is a most valuable asset and must be protected, Bruns reported.