Rainbow Family Invasion Begins

 

News that the Rainbow Family Gathering had picked Beaverhead County for their 2013 celebration landed with a thud at Beaverhead County Courthouse on Monday as officials began mobilizing for what is expected to be a financial burden to the local government.  The loose knit group, allegedly without leadership or organization, returns to the Big Hole Valley for a gathering that will peak over the Fourth of July weekend with as many as 20,000 visitors at Saginaw off Skinner Meadow Road near Jackson.  The group utilized the same site in 2000.

Beaverhead County Sheriff Jay Hansen has been monitoring the group’s website (welcomehome.org) for the past two weeks as the Rainbow Family Gathering “leadership” pondered three southwest Montana locations – Jackson, the Elkhorns near Helena, and an area between Anaconda and Deer Lodge.  The destination was released Sunday evening and the migration to the Big Hole Valley began.

According to Hansen, Sunday evening in Jackson a fracas erupted between locals and Rainbow Family members but disbursed before Beaverhead County deputies responded to the small town.

Hansen said he received several phone calls Sunday evening from various people informing him of the group’s decision to return to Beaverhead County.  One caller, Montana Highway Patrol Col. Kenton Hickethier, told Hansen the MHP would do all they could to help with enforcement.

“So we do have a couple of squads from Montana Highway Patrol that will be helping us with the roads and criminal loss,” said Hansen.

On Monday morning, Hansen had met with Forest Service officials and began formulating a plan of action.  The two entities agreed to a unified command system with Hansen representing Beaverhead County law enforcement and Timothy Lather from the U.S.F.S. Northern Region offices in Missoula representing the Forest Service as incident commander.

Hansen met with Beaverhead County Commissioners Monday afternoon and requested immediate road work on Skinner Meadows Road, the county road that accesses Saginaw.

“Right now it is in pretty bad shape and you can’t go down it at 25 (mph),” said Hansen.  “We have to make sure that we have a good way to get into the area there and get back out safely.  First responders like EMS, the fire department, law enforcement and those people from the state of Montana that need to get in there for sanitation issues and solid waste, we have to have safe access.”

Hansen also requested that the commission institute an emergency speed limit of 35 miles per hour on the road so that it maintains its integrity after the blading work.  The commissioners approved both the road work and speed limit on Monday.  They also agreed to haul 40-foot solid waste containers so that the county can begin immediate garbage hauling to avoid a problem for the 2000 gathering when a late start hauling garbage created problems.

“Its a long process,” said Hansen of bracing for the gathering.  “We’re putting a large prop of people together to manage a population of a small city.  Typically, it is anywhere from 20,000 to 25,000 with a big influx around July 1-2 and a peak population between July 2-5.  After July 6, you’re going to see a mass exodus.”

As of Monday, there were around 250 Rainbow Family followers at the site.

“Presently, we have enough law enforcement,” Hansen stated.  “Going forward as the population at Skinner Meadows increases, we’re going to need officers that I don’t have.”

Hansen will having meetings throughout the week, including a meeting Wednesday with all affected local agencies – EMS, fire departments, public health, law enforcement, child protective services, coroner, and forest service.

Tentatively, Hansen plans on establishing a full command center in Dillon, he hopes at the Dillon Middle School, where there will be daily law enforcement briefings, and then a law enforcement operations center at Jackson, hopefully at the Jackson School where law enforcement and EMS teams will have a staging area.

“I’m not identifying anybody in particular, but during the 2000 Rainbow Gathering, we did have an increase in the population of Dillon, with people who were panhandling, people were arrested for shoplifting, other thefts, trespassing, criminal mischief,” recalled Hansen.  “I’m not identifying anybody in particular, I’m just saying we saw an increase in crime.”

The Beaverhead County Commissioners are considering an emergency levy of 2 mills to pay bills associated with the gathering.  Commissioner Garth Haughland commented that they passed a large event gathering ordinance in 2000 that will not apply to the Rainbow Family due to their alleged lack of leadership and structure.