Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect the correct day of the commission meeting — Monday, not Tuesday.
PORT TOWNSEND — Plans to hold the Port Townsend Rhododendron Festival carnival at Memorial Field this May have been approved for a final year.
However, as the Jefferson County commissioners took action on Monday, they and staff members expressed concerns about damage left behind after last year’s carnival which took place during an unusually wet season.
Commissioners Kathleen Kler and Kate Dean voted to allow Memorial Field to be used for the event, with Commissioner David Sullivan opposed. They all agreed this would be the final year the commissioners would approve this location for the Rhody Fest carnival.
In his opposition, Sullivan said the commission’s first responsibility it to take care of the field.
“It’s a risk management situation,” he said.”It’s not our emergency and it isn’t our job to rescue them.”
Brandi Hamon, Rhody Festival president, said that the festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, May 17-19. She plans to meet with Dean and Funtastic Traveling Shows to work out the details.
“The price has not been negotiated yet for the use of the field, and we will be working on that in the next few days.,” Hamon said.
After last year’s event, the field experienced major damage to the grass and irrigation system, with significant ruts that needed to be filled in with sand, county officials said. The problem was heavy machinery on a rain-softened field.
It did not have to do with the fall of a Ferris wheel gondola; inspectors cleared the Ferris wheel owned by Funtastic for use in Washington state and Oregon.
“May is an unpredictable weather month, and the carnival operators and the Rhody organizers agreed that this situation was really bad,” said Monte Reinders, Jefferson County director of public works.
“We spent staff time to fix the field. We did aeration work and top dressing, and used drum rollers. It took $12,000 to $15,000 to fix.”
The festival organizers had a $5,000 damage deposit in their agreement.
“Maybe it’s possible to continue to use the field with the mats or some system that can handle the wheel loads,” Reinders suggested.
“These are used in other facilities. We did quite a bit of research on these protective mats and they come at a high cost. It takes longer to set them up. I don’t see how we can accept the kind of damage that occurred last year.
“There’s still damage. It’s hard to find every single rut,” Reinders said.
Commissioners noted that the damage displaced users from the field for a number of months during the repairs.
County Administrator Philip Morley was concerned about liability.
”That’s the concern I have from the liability and the responsibility perspective,” Morley noted. “The primary purpose for the field is as an athletic playing field. It’s the only public playing field in town and it’s the only one in the county that has lights. There’s still damage. These are heavy rigs. These are semis that have fully-loaded ride trailers.”
Reinders said the timing of the event is bad.
“It’s the time of year. The car show is in July. Rhody is in May. The Wooden Boat Festival is in September when the field is dry. They are lighter vehicles, too. We can’t control the weather.”
Commissioners said they want to make sure that RhodyFest can still have its carnival at Memorial Field this year until there is a longer-term solution.
“We’re sympathetic to the history and tradition of the carnival,” Morley said.
He noted the Rhody organization uses the money collected from the carnival for its scholarship program, which totals around $10,000.
Morley recommended that the commissioners view this year’s approval as a band-aid for the program, and work with program organizers to find a better solution on how to fund the scholarship program.
Dean urged the public works staff to work with the organizers to insure damage deposits are adequate and that damage mitigation be taken, like the mats proposed by staff.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or a [email protected]