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County seeks changes at 10,000 Lakes Fest

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If the mood of commissioners at a recent Becker County Board meeting is any indication, organizers of the 10,000 Lakes Festival should not expect their conditional use permit to be rubber-stamped this year.

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"We need to curb the drug use out there," said Commissioner Barry Nelson. "That's the biggest problem. If they can meet the sheriff's demands..."

Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon last year vowed to crack down on drug use at the festival after emergency room workers in Detroit Lakes treated a number of festival-goers for drug-related health problems.

Black tar heroin, cocaine, LSD and methamphetamines -- often mixed together -- were among the illegal drugs found in patients from the festival. Sheriff's deputies also made a number of drug-related arrests at the festival, often the result of reports from festival security personnel.

One man who came to town for the festival was arrested and required extensive long-term mental health treatment in Fergus Falls that has cost the county more than $80,000, according to Commissioner Harry Salminen.

Since the launching of WE Fest in the early 1980s, the Soo Pass Ranch has had a conditional use permit allowing it to hold up to five events per year, according to County Zoning Administrator Patty Johnson.

Last year, two festivals were held there -- WE Fest and 10,000 Lakes Fest. Those festivals will return this year, and the Soo Pass is considering hosting a motorcycle rally this year as well.

"Living in that area (near the Soo Pass Ranch) I really feel for those people," Salminen said. "Even if there are three events, that's three weekends when you can't even move (on the roadways) ... But three I think I can handle. Five is a problem for me."

"We could limit it, but we have to have reasons why," Johnson said.

The conditional use permit for the Soo Pass can be amended or revoked if its conditions are not met, but that has not been the case, Johnson said, noting that there have been no complaints from health inspectors and that the festivals have worked with the county to develop plans for law enforcement, traffic control and planning and zoning issues.

"The sheriff's department would have to report on law enforcement issues," for the county to take zoning action because of illegal drug use, she added.

The sheriff's department works out its own contract for law enforcement services with major festivals at the Soo Pass Ranch, but the county planning and zoning office also signs off on the festival plan each year. The fee for the conditional use permit is $1,000 a year.

"Their proposals will be coming in the next couple weeks," Johnson said last week.

"We might want to put (10,000 Lakes Fest organizers) on notice that the pre-planning meeting maybe won't just be a push-through this year," she added.

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