2006 biker-rally bid buys more time
By Gail Binkly
Arm-wrestling, “pineapple-pit female wrestling” and “biker bull-busting” are among the events slated for a motorcycle rally proposed in Montezuma County this Labor Day weekend. But the legal and political contests taking place before the rally have been as intense as anything on the agenda for the gathering.
Rally in the Rockies — which would draw thousands of bikers to the Echo Basin Dude Ranch near Mancos for four days of concerts, camping, cavorting and cruising — has drawn vocal opposition from neighbors of the ranch.
Top Montezuma County law officers have stated that they don’t have time to prepare for the rally this year. The Southern Ute tribe — with whom the rally contracted in previous years to have the event in Ignacio, Colo. — has announced that it has a binding lease through 2006 and expects it to be honored.
Meanwhile, rumors swirl that the owner of Echo Basin has said he will host the rally even if the county turns down his request for a high-impact permit. The county commissioners’ attorney has been directed to explore options available to the county if such a thing occurred.
At a public hearing June 19, after listening to a roomful of people mostly opposed to allowing the rally to take place at Echo Basin this summer, the Montezuma County commissioners decided to delay their decision on the permit until July — a move that left many in the audience disgruntled.
“You’ve heard that law enforcement can’t prepare,” said Bud Roach, a former county road engineer who lives near Echo Basin. “I don’t know what these gentlemen [the rally promoters] are proposing to do if they had one million dollars to offer. . . .
“This should be a done deal today.”
But it wasn’t a done deal, as the commissioners — at the request of the rally’s organizers — agreed to continue their public hearing on a permit for the rally until 1:30 p.m. Monday, July 10, in the county courthouse.
A separate public hearing on Echo Basin’s regular music concerts was likewise continued, to July 17 at 1:30 p.m.
Nowhere to get help
Dan Bradshaw, promoter of the biker rally, began talking with Montezuma County officials this spring about moving the event from Ignacio to Echo Basin, a guest ranch and concert venue northeast of Mancos.
Non-permitted events can face fines, injunctions under state law
What happens if the county rejects a high-impact permit for an event and the organizers proceed with it anyway?
That question came up June 19 during a public hearing on a permit being sought by the owners of Echo Basin Dude Ranch northeast of Mancos to host the Rally in the Rockies motorcycle rally over Labor Day weekend this year.
Some opponents of the rally said they had heard that Dan Bjorkman, who owns Echo Basin with his wife Kathi, had said he would host the rally even without the county’s permission, because all that would happen is he would be assessed a fine of $500 a day.
“I would like to ask Dan Bjorkman if this indeed is his plan and intention,” said Kim Sheek, who lives near Echo Basin.
Bjorkman merely said those statements “are all hearsay.”
Sheek also asked the county commissioners what they would do if such an event occurred.
Commissioner Dewayne Findley said the county would “follow due process,” but added, “We don’t have any reason to believe they are trying to bypass our process at this time.”
State law provides for a fine of up to $500 for the use of land contrary to county zoning provisions on the first day, and for $50 a day thereafter. Commission attorney Bob Slough said another option is to go to court and obtain an injunction against a non-permitted event. Asked whether the sheriff has the right to enforce this, Slough said, “I can’t tell the sheriff what to do. He’s an elected official.”
William Zimsky, attorney for Bjorkman and the Rally in the Rockies, told the Free Press that if the county declines the permit, “We’d have to look at our options.” However, he said he is confident the rally will “meet all the issues that were raised at the hearing.”
The rally’s web site has for months touted Echo Basin as its new venue without saying “contingent upon county approval” or anything similar.
“The web site is out there,” Zimsky told the board, adding that anything on it is “under the good-faith belief that we don’t actually need a land-use permit.”
The rally would stretch from Aug. 30 to Sept. 3, though its web site — which already lists Echo Basin as the chosen venue — says camping will be allowed starting Aug. 23. The gathering features heavymetal concerts every night. Tentatively scheduled are Iron Horse, Slaughter, Bad Company, Rare Earth and Warrant. Great White was scheduled but backed out. Attorney William Zimsky of Durango, representing Bradshaw and Echo Basin owner Dan Bjorkman, said his clients don’t believe they even need a landuse permit “because this is a pre-existing use before the land-use code.”
Bjorkman bought the 600-acre ranch in 1998, the same year the county adopted its land-use code. Zimsky said the previous owner had concerts as well as RV sites, cabins and tent camping, as Bjorkman does today.
“Our argument would be that that would stop him from having to have a permit to have concerts, but we want to work with the county,” Zimsky said. He said he this also means the motorcycle rally does not need a permit either.
Promoters have given differing numbers on how many bikers would attend Rally in the Rockies, but at the hearing Zimsky said there would be no more than 8,000 attendees per day, limited by the sale of armbands. In Ignacio, the event drew a total of some 48,000 over the four-day period.
Many bikers also come to the area but do not attend the actual rally every day, Bradshaw has said.
At the hearing, local law officers voiced concerns about how they could prepare in the short time before Labor Day to handle such an influx.
Mancos Marshal Bryan Jones said his office has a total of two people patrolling “on the road” and would have to hire four or five more. He said the cost for hiring part-time personnel, paying overtime, and providing uniforms, insurance and training would probably be about $9,000.
Bradshaw has said he is willing to provide some reimbursement to the Mancos Marshal’s Office if the town agrees to hold an event related to the rally, Jones said.
Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane said his staff made inquiries to other lawenforcement agencies in Colorado about personnel available to hire for the rally and “there was zero out there.”
“There was nowhere out there for us to go and get help,” Lane emphasized.
Extra officers working the rally would have to be hired in-state because Colorado law requires they be state-certified, a process that takes six weeks, Lane said.
“If we had a year to work on this we could come up with something,” he said, “but there’s an old saying that the lack of planning on someone else’s part doesn’t make an emergency on mine.”
County Sheriff Gerald Wallace echoed those concerns, stating in a letter, “Given the short time space . . . and not knowing all the details. . . I cannot support the rally until all concerns can be mitigated.”
He wrote that he is willing to prepare for 2007 if most issues can be worked out.
Bjorkman has said he turned down requests from a different motorcycle rally, the Iron Horse, to use his ranch as a venue because then-Sheriff Joey Chavez did not think it was a good idea.
Major Barry Bratt of the Colorado State Patrol in Durango told the commissioners the State Patrol takes no position on the rally but has been in contact with Bradshaw.
Zimsky said promoters have budgeted up to $15,000 to provide for two State Patrol officers manning the intersection at U.S. Highway 160 and Road 44 at all peak hours.
Using the fairgrounds
Neighbors along County Road 44, the only route into Echo Basin, have raised strong objections over noise, traffic and safety.
At the hearing, Peggy Maloney of Mancos spoke about fire danger. “Echo Basin is not an isolated environment separate from the national forest,” she said. “There is a significant likelihood of illegal campfires.” Cigarettes and even tailpipes can spark flames in dry grass, she noted.
Kerry O’Brien, who lives near Echo Basin, said many of the rally-goers will come from other states and “do not understand the dangers of fire in the arid Southwest.” Fire in the West Mancos River Canyon would be very difficult to fight and would devastate Mancos’ watershed, he said.
O’Brien and his wife, Mary, lost their home in the Rodeo-Chediski fire in Arizona in 2002. “I can assure you it is a devastating experience,” he said.
O’Brien said the event should take place at the county fairgrounds, which has easy access off Highway 160 and no neighbors to suffer from the noise. The annual high-school rodeo is scheduled for the fairgrounds over Labor Day, but he suggested, “Have the rally change the date — or if you want the rally money bad enough, kick the kids out.”
Veryl Goodnight said she recently bought land on Road 44 because of the quiet rural atmosphere. “Please don’t make me sorry I did,” she said. She questioned whether rally-goers are truly “classy,” as promoters have said, and noted statements on the web-site forum about “tittie-flashing” and female wrestling. “It doesn’t reek to me of class, sorry,” Goodnight commented.
Jim Cody, vice president of the Weber Reservoir Co., which manages the private reservoir near Echo Basin, said public safety is his No. 1 issue with the rally. “We don’t carry insurance in case people [trespass and] drown,” he said. Bjorkman was supposed to get back to him about a possible “hold harmless ” measure but had not, he said.
Also citing concerns about Road 44 — which is chip-sealed but narrow, unstriped and winding — Cody asked the commissioners, “If you say yes to this, what will you say no to?”
“You’re asking 150 to 200 people to put up with his [Bjorkman’s] problems while he goes to the bank,” said neighbor Maurice Dahl. “During the rally my wife and I will get to sleep about 1 or 2 in the morning.”
Neighbors also noted that, though Bradshaw has said headline concerts will end around sunset, the web site states they will end at 10:30 or 11 p.m.
There were few comments in support of the event, but Pete Montaño of Cortez said he worked at last year’s rally in conjunction with the Four Corners Child Advocacy Center and later received a check for $1,200 for the center. “The nonprofit organizations can work there, take advantage of that situation and earn money,” he said.
Opponents submitted a petition with numerous signatures opposing the rally. Sheek said she and neighbor Sue Jackson canvassed every home in the Echo Basin area and everyone except two persons who were neutral signed the petition against the rally. Proponents submitted petitions of their own signed by people favoring the event.
Wrangling over a lease
More legal questions entered the discussion at the hearing when Kate Burke, an attorney representing the Southern Ute tribe, asked the commissioners to consider the tribe’s existing lease with the rally through 2006, which the tribe believes is valid.
Sam Maynes, also an attorney for the Southern Utes, told the Free Press the tribal council “wants its lease honored” and wants to see the rally as scheduled at the Sky Ute Events Center.
Bradshaw has said escalating costs forced him to leave Ignacio, but Maynes said the rent was established at the beginning of the current three-year lease, in 2003. On the rally web site, Bradshaw writes that the tribe demanded he hire 50 additional uniformed security officers at a total cost of $80,000. “Did anyone out there last year see a problem with a LACK of security?” he writes. “Sixteen Sheriff Deputies at a time walking around, Tribal Police everywhere... , the SWAT VAN PARKED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GROUNDS.. ..”
Maynes, however, said the request for more personnel was reasonable. “They’re obligated to provide adequate security,” Maynes said. “They might want to get by with a little security as possible — that may be in their financial interest — but the tribe is concerned about security.”
Maynes said the tribe may seek an injunction against the rally if it is held somewhere other than in Ignacio.
But Zimsky said that isn’t something Montezuma County needs to worry about. “If the county gives us a landuse permit they’re not liable to the tribe for anything,” he said. “They did not entice us to come over there. There’s no liability on the part of the county.”
Profit and prosperity
Bradshaw told the Free Press he believes the rally will take place at Echo Basin. “We don’t know how they can say no,” he said. “We’re meeting the requirements. Dan Bjorkman has a legal right to have concerts there and has in the past, so there’s a legal precedent. We’re working with the county to make sure everything is addressed.”
He said the rally has budgeted $15,000 for State Patrol officers at Highway 160 and Road 44, plus whatever lights and signs the Colorado Department of Transportation believes are necessary. The rally has offered to pay an additional $35,000 to the State Patrol to bring in approximately 15 more officers for the Mancos-Cortez area, Bradshaw said.
As far as money for local lawenforcement agencies in Mancos or Cortez, Bradshaw said, “We just don’t have an effect on them. It’s mostly on the State Patrol.”
Motorcyclists will be distributed around the area and won’t congregate in local towns, he said. “Cortez won’t get 12,000 bikers. They might get 2,000,” he said. “Mancos might get 1,000 to 2,000 that come into town, eat, buy fuel, go to the Columbine [Bar]. But most will be in Durango.”
The rally will give $10,000 to the Mancos Fire Department for providing emergency and fire services, he said.
Bradshaw said other sites welcome biker rallies and he can’t understand why there is such resistance in Montezuma County. “What do the cities of Austin [Texas], Red River [N.M.], Ruidoso [N.M.] and Durango know that evidently Cortez and Mancos don’t? There’s your major question,” he said. “It’s prosperity. We don’t think Cortez and Mancos have figured it out yet.”
Bradshaw said motorcyclists bring in “a tremendous amount of money” and cause little trouble. Of the Southern Utes’ request for greater security, he said, “I’m just bewildered by it.”
“These other communities have a whole different attitude,” he said. Austin closes its downtown area one night and has a biker party and free concerts, all paid for by the city, he said.
“That’s what most cities do,” he said. “They have pancake breakfasts, put up a beer garden, something for the bikers to do. They find a way to profit off that.” He said every year he donates about $100,000 to nonprofits throughout the Four Corners.
“There’s so much money dropped into the community, everybody wins. I think Cortez and Mancos have lost sight of that.”