Thursday, September 3, 2015
OKANOGAN – The Okanogan County Fair Advisory Committee will meet tonight for a showdown over whether to move the Okanogan Complex fire camp, postpone or cancel the organization’s signature event.
Residents have voiced a number of opinions in advance of the decision, and even raised questions about monetary transactions related to fire camp.
With many people expected to turn out tonight, the meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on the front lawn of the fairgrounds office, 175 Rodeo Trail Road.
The advisory committee is advises Okanogan County commissioners, who would have to ratify the recommendation or come up with their own decision when they meet in special session at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the commissioners’ hearing room of the Grainger Administration Building, 123 N. Fifth Ave.
The advisory group, along with county officials, met Sunday and came to a conclusion: If fire camp moves, the date stays the same. If not, the fair will be postponed until Sept. 24-27.
County commissioners agreed late last week to allow a national Type 1 incident management team to rent the fairgrounds as a fire camp, for up to 4,500 fire personnel, for 14 days.
Fire camp is now home to about 1,300 people working on the Lime Belt, Nine Mile and Twisp River fires, known collectively as the Okanogan Complex.
The Chronicle contacted the commissioners’ office seeking unsuccessfully to obtain copies of the public contracts and public financial agreements related to housing the fire camp.
The office, however, referred the request to the fair office, where copies were supposedly on file for review. Fair employees, however, referred the request back to the commissioners’ office.
The Chronicle also contacted Okanogan County Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall seeking a copy of the contract.
“I don’t touch any of that” paperwork, Goodall said.
Goodall’s wife, Kim Goodall, works in the fair office and Maurice Goodall also is active with the fair.
According to a standardized contract provided by the commissioners’ office for a regional Type 2 fire management team, the county is paid $2,500 per day for use of the fairgrounds for the first seven days, then $1,200 per day thereafter. Those fees include the use of utilities, showers, garbage services, trash bins, telephone service, sewage, inmate sleeping, facilities for night shift sleeping and a “helispot.”
For a state Type 3 team, the county receives $700 per day. The same benefits are applied for a type 3 team under a standardized contract.
The state authorized those standardized contracts in 2009.
Goodall previously claimed that if the county asks the Type I team to move, the county would lose the resources, which are battling blazes in the western part of the county and Chelan area.
“If they uproot their stakes, they’re out of here,” he said Sunday. “It may look like it’s nice here, but in a couple of days it may all change with the winds. They could downsize, but I just don’t see it happening.”
The standardized contracts for the Type 2 and 3 teams do not include any language relating to relocation.
Another Type 1 team is stationed at East Side Park in Omak and working to contain the Tunk Block and North Star fires burning in northeastern Okanogan County and the Colville Indian Reservation.
Omak City Administrator Ralph Malone said the park’s rental rate to fire camp is $500 per day, $2,500 a week or $7,500 per month.
The camp is there until further notice; fire officials will be billed once the camp packs up.
Malone said that while he does not know the type of agreement the camp has with the fairgrounds, he suspects it is substantially higher because “they also have buildings which we don’t offer.”
Should the fire camp move in time for the fair to go on, the county expects to bring in tens of thousands of dollars to offset fair expenses.
“The fair does draw in $75,000-80,000 (in gate prices) that goes into the county fair fund,” Okanogan County Treasurer Leah McCormack said.
“Then you have vendors and camping, not only at the fair. That draws in sales tax revenues as well,” she said, adding there is also a financial uptick from people shopping with local merchants, gas stations and “a multitude of entities.”
According to a Chronicle online poll, 169 people (about 39 percent) said public safety is more important than the fair. Meanwhile, 225 people (about 45 percent) said they would rather see the fair postponed as opposed to canceled.
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