‘Zealous’ Canopy Rules Foul Earth Day Celebration

Enforcement of new and highly stringent rules out of the Eugene Fire Marshal’s Office regarding outdoor canopies, tents and booths appear to be the cause of the cancellation of Eugene’s traditional Earth Day Celebration event April 18. The popular event has been held at EWEB Plaza since about 1999.

The highly technical rules have been suspended for now, following an outcry from not only Earth Day organizers but also other groups that use outdoor tents and canopies. The rules posted online by the fire marshal would require some larger tents or canopies to have as much as 4,000 pounds of ballast to withstand 110 mph winds. The rules also required analysis of “coefficient of friction between anchor/ballast and surface,” written evacuation plans and keeping a log “recording wind speed at 30 minute intervals.”

One of the Earth Day organizers, Steve Remington, tells EW, “I challenged the document’s assumptions, provided them additional information from the city of Phoenix and Tempe (where they have high winds and I worked several seasons) and tried to convince them that their overly zealous compliance officer was overstepping the ‘interpretation’ of the assumptions, but to little avail.”

He adds, “There is still a wide margin for them to assert power over various event aspects, which their staff seems to take inordinate pleasure in exercising. I think they have the wrong person for the job.”

The new rules on “anchorage of tents” were posted and in effect since last Oct. 1, but apparently no one on the event planning group, including city staffers, were aware of them until mid-March, when it was too late and too expensive to comply. “They had such a narrow time window in late March (get permit, sign up booth vendors, logistics, etc.) that they decided to cancel,” says Lance Robertson, EWEB spokesman. The fire marshal’s office did not respond to an EW request for comment.

Several local musicians, including singer Halie Loren, had their paid Earth Day performances canceled.

EWEB participates in the annual event but it is organized, funded and managed by an umbrella group called Earth Day Oregon representing various agencies, nonprofits and others.

The new rules applied to Saturday Market and Farmers Market since both organizations use outdoor booths, tents and canopies. “There was a technical advisory that we were very aware of that was requiring heavy weights for all booths used outdoors in Eugene-Springfield,” says Kim Still, manager of market promotions and advertising at Saturday Market. “We were working hard on making it possible for our vendors to comply. It was never an option for us to do anything but make it work somehow.”

Still says Saturday Market is continuing to work with city staff on ballast requirements, and ordered weight bags from Eugene Canvas. “After we had placed the order,” she says, “the city manager and city attorney pulled the advisory requirements for tents under 400 square feet. They haven’t let us know when or if they will rework or reinstitute requirements.” The larger tents at Saturday Market already have anchors set in concrete.

Meanwhile, the Master Gardener Association’s big annual plant sale will take place April 18, without tents or canopies, at EWEB’s parking lot under the Ferry Street Bridge. And an alternative People’s Earth Day celebration is being planned for April 25 at Alton Baker Park (previously announced for April 18). “The event we envision includes what past Earth Days have had, with an added focus on climate change and our spiritual and activist relationship with the natural world,” says co-organizer John Abbe. “Soon we will be deciding about exciting speakers and musicians to invite, reaching out to groups who might want to have a table, and more.” Abbe can be reached at 708-2300 or johnca@ourpla.net. Another contact is Sabrina Siegel, email sabrinasiegel@gmail.com or call 343-1913.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to correct Kim Still’s title, to reflect a new date for the alternative Earth Day event, and to add an additional contact for more information.

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