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Mateel: Reggae Fest, Not Pot Fest

Facing questions on potential changes to the Reggae on the River music festival due to new management, boardmembers of the Mateel Community Center have told county planning commissioners that the event’s focus will be on music and financial stability, not cannabis.

The implications of the Mateel’s new partnership with High Times Productions, the event management subsidiary of High Times Media, figured into the Humboldt County Planning Commission’s June 21 deliberations on renewing the Reggae on the River’s five-year county permit.

A majority of commissioners approved the permit, allowing the event to proceed as planned in early August.

The new involvement of High Times concerned Commissioner Dave Edmonds. Saying that “instead of Reggae on the River, now we’re looking at a big marijuana festival,” Edmunds suggested that liability potential will intensify and he asked if the county would share liability if something goes wrong.

The commission’s counsel said the county wouldn’t be liable simply for issuing a permit.

The change of event management was also discussed during a public comment session.

Calling attention to the presence of forestlands and homesteads near the French’s Camp festival site, Piercy Fire Protection District President Cheri Porter Keisner said “fire is the number one threat to those of us who live in this community” and she’s concerned that former fire prevention measures aren’t in place.

She also told commissioners that camping cannabis users could pose fire risk.

“I’m really concerned because as we’re changing the event, it’s becoming cannabis-friendly, and the majority of the fires that I have helped put out have been cannabis-friendly fires,” she said. “Most people who are smoking pot come from out of the area and are not real fire-safe.”

Mateel Vice President Dusty Houston said the festival will continue to use a loop lot on the west side of the Eel River as a “holding area” for early arrivals, which will prevent “cars piled up on the 101” and the trespassing associated with fire risks.

Porter Keisner had also said that the fire district is one of many organizations owed money for services provided during last year’s event.

Houston said $141,000 of the Mateel’s total debt has been paid and he added that the High Times partnership will change the festival’s financial viability, not its purpose.

“We have partnered with High Times Productions not to create a larger cannabis event, but mainly to save the potential for this economic infusion into Southern Humboldt and in that same breath, it’s also saving the community center,” he said.

Mateel boardmember Garth Epling highlighted the new partnership’s potential to improve the Southern Humboldt economy – and allow Reggae on the River to survive.

“Yes, it’s now a for-profit company that’s going to be producing this event for us but it will still benefit us -- the non-profit Mateel Community Center,” he said. “And after last year’s downturn in the economy and last year’s poor performance of the festival leading to the Mateel’s current fiscal situation, we couldn’t afford to produce this event again – we needed to partner with somebody and also wanted to see this event continue for the foreseeable future.”

He added, “Partnering with High Times gave us a way to continue this event and it does so in such a way that there’s little to no risk of any financial problems for the Mateel in the future.”

A representative of High Times emphasized the company’s production experience and said that “we do not intend to make Reggae on the River a cannabis event.”

There are aspects of holding the festival that are still pending.

The installation of a temporary bridge across the South Fork Eel River has a new twist – the possible presence of the yellow-legged frog, a species that’s being reviewed for endangered listing, will ultimately require a state permit and state wildlife officials will oversee the installation.

An owner of B & B Six Rivers Portable Toilets said his company is one of the businesses that’s owed money from last year’s festival and will not be providing its services this year.

That concerned Commissioner Ben Shepherd, who said he couldn’t support renewing the festival’s permit without portable toilet management in place.

But Commission Chair Bob Morris warned against making decisions based on vendor circumstances, saying another company can be contracted and the commission’s per view is strictly land use.

Other commissioners agreed. The vote to approve the permit renewal was 4 -1, with Shepherd dissenting.

The approval came with an added condition – that the festival’s organizers must demonstrate that all essential services have been secured two weeks before the event.

There will be no increase in the festival’s attendance level this year. Like last year, it will be limited to 6,500 ticket holders and 2,500 staff members, vendors and performers.

One Comment

  1. HARK July 27, 2018

    ““I’m really concerned because as we’re changing the event, it’s becoming cannabis-friendly, and the majority of the fires that I have helped put out have been cannabis-friendly fires,” she said. “Most people who are smoking pot come from out of the area and are not real fire-safe.””

    I haven’t laughed out loud in a while, thank you for that.

    Is this real? Does this person believe that this will be the first year that people will travel from out of the area to attend Reggae on the River and smoke marijuana? Where has this person been? Clearly not in Piercy during one of these festivals.

    Regardless of Prop. 64 in 2016, or Prop. 215 back in 1995, ROTR has ALWAYS been a “cannabis-friendly” event.

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