Jefferson County commissioners postpone action on Wakarusa Fest move

An aerial view shows the Wakarusa Camping & Music Festival at Clinton State Park. Festival organizers want to move the event to the Circle S Ranch, but Jefferson County Commissioners won't make a decision until next week.

Don’t get the cowboy hats out just yet.

Plans to move the Wakarusa Music Festival from Clinton Lake to a rural Jefferson County ranch are still up in the air.

Jefferson County commissioners said Monday that they needed more time to consider whether the county’s roads, sheriff’s department and other infrastructure can handle the three-day camping and music festival.

Commissioners said they will decide the issue next Monday, after receiving reports from each of the county’s department heads on how the event would impact county services.

A crowd of about 50 people attended Monday morning’s county commission meeting. Members of the crowd presented a petition with more than 300 names who oppose the festival moving from Clinton Lake to the Circle S Ranch site, which is about 12 miles north of Lawrence.

“Our infrastructure cannot handle an event of this magnitude,” said Leanea Wales, who lives and raises cattle on property next to the proposed site.

Festival organizers, though, said they were committed to working with the county to resolve infrastructure and public safety concerns. Festival promoter Brett Mosiman said his company would give the county $2 from each ticket sold to help cover expenses. He also said if the county did not have the staff to provide some services, he would hire private companies to ensure that necessary medical and public safety staffing levels were met.

County commissioners did not tip their hands on whether they would approve the special-use permit for the festival. The three-member commission last year rejected – on a 2-1 vote – a similar request from the festival organizers. But Commissioner Don Edmonds, who voted against the project last year, said he’s willing to reconsider.

The county’s Economic Development Commission also is urging commissioners to approve the request. The economic development group believes the event could generate tens of thousands of new sales tax dollars for the county.

Several Jefferson County department heads, though, expressed concerns. Public works leaders questioned whether winding Wellman Road could handle vehicles carrying the 10,000 to 20,000 people that the event could draw. Concerns also were expressed about the gravel road that leads to the ranch. A health department leader also questioned whether organizers would be able to secure enough portable toilets to adequately serve the site, and the sheriff said it would be difficult for his force to provide enough deputies at the site.

Mosiman, though, said he felt there would be plenty of time to work out concerns before the event, which would be in mid-June.

“As producers of this event, we understand it is our job to deal with the traffic and the law enforcement and the sanitation,” Mosiman said. “We’re very confident. We have done these in parking lots and fields. I think this can be a neat fit.”

Mosiman also addressed concerns from commissioners that his company still owes the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks about $25,000 related to this year’s event at Clinton State Park. Mosiman said the bill hasn’t been paid because he’s contesting the fairness of the charge.

The bill is for labor costs related to state employees who were onsite during the Wakarusa Festival. Mosiman said he doesn’t think those charges are fair after it was reported by the Journal-World in August that the state does not charge the Country Stampede – a similar concert event at Tuttle Creek State Park – for the same type of services.

County commissioners are expected to consider the permit issue about 10 a.m. Monday at their meeting at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Oskaloosa.