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March 6, 2013

Council OKs OH-Fest permit for Neahwa Park

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Common Council approved a permit Tuesday night for OH-Fest’s return to Neahwa Park on April 27 and for a joint bid with the Oneonta School District to obtain grants to build a new salt shed.

Approval for the OH-Fest permit came on a 6-0 vote, with council members Maureen Hennessy and Larry Malone absent. But it came with a caveat — an amendment offered by Mayor Dick Miller after council member Michael Lynch raised concerns about the firmness of new security arrangement with the Hartwick and SUNY Oneonta student associations, which organize the event.

The amendment would make clear that the council reserves the right to withdraw the permit if it or Police Chief Dennis Nayor decide the organizers are not holding to the agreement.

Lynch said he didn’t want a repetition of the 2011 OH-Fest, when the Oneonta Police Department provided security for the festival’s Neahwa Park concert and was stretched to the breaking point by a crowd estimated at 10,000, leaving the surrounding area, including his Fourth Ward, largely unprotected.

“We basically surrendered our neighborhood that day,” he said.

The event was held on the campuses last year.

This year, the organizers will employ private security operatives and Hartwick College security officers create to a ratio of one security person for every 250 concertgoers, Nayor said. With 7,000 people expected to attend, that would mean 28 unarmed security people inside the concert venue.

As for the Police Department, “it’ll be our full complement, everyone who we have available,” Nayor said.

“We’re just going to be able to reallocate our staff so we’re not on the inside perimeter, where we shouldn’t be, where we shouldn’t have been the last time, two years ago.

“We’re going to be there, available to effect arrests, deal some sort of a riot situation or some sort of a public-safety issue,” he said.

Council member Chip Holmes, who represents the Eighth Ward, noted that the student associations understood the concerns and seemed committed to addressing them. He also said they would not go forward with a popular Main Street component of the festival without park approval.

“The colleges learned to negotiate,” he said, characterizing their position as: “If we can’t go to the park, we can’t have the Main Street event, because we can’t afford it this year.” He also noted that the Main Street Oneonta organization “really wanted” its event and had offered to help support it.

The salt-shed plan would deal with an ongoing problem. The resolution describes the existing shed as “inadequate, unsafe and severely deteriorated.”

Under the plan, the two entities would each apply for a $200,000 grant through the Local Government Efficiency Grant Program. The city would cover 10 percent, or $44,000, of the estimated cost for the 60- by 72-foot shed, as required by the grant program, the resolution said.

In other business, the council approved a series of grant applications for for single- and multi-family housing rehabilitation, improvements to the water system and to its wastewater treatment plant.

It also agree to reduce building and plumbing-permit fees to $25 for the first $5,000 of work and $2.50 for each additional $1,000 of work.

The council then went into executive session to discuss an unspecified legal matter.