The local chapter of the Audubon Society has jumped into the fray over the Heaven Fest music festival that is to be held on July 31 next to Union Reservoir in Longmont.
Detractors, including those who live close to the Christian concert’s former site near I-25 and Hwy. 7, say the event created unbearable traffic and dust in the past, and now the Boulder County Audubon Society has echoed concerns of local activists worried about the impact that the event will have on the habitat around the reservoir.
But Heaven Fest founder Luke Bodley and city officials say they are bending over backwards to mitigate concerns about the event, which they say could bring more than 30,000 people to a field south of Union Reservoir — and reportedly pump about $700,000 in lodging and dining revenue into the economy.
Christopher Abrahamson, treasurer of the local Audubon chapter, told Longmont city officials in a Feb. 5 letter that more than 200 bird species — including several that are threatened or rare — have been observed at Union Reservoir, and that it is “one of the most productive habitats for nesting and migratory birds in eastern Colorado. … Such an important wildlife resource seems a particularly inappropriate place to stage a festival attended by 30,000 to 50,000 people, especially during a time when breeding birds are still feeding dependent young.”
The letter includes a litany of questions, including how the impacts on plants and wildlife in the area will be monitored and prevented; how the destruction of plants in parking areas (and the invasive weeds expected to succeed them) will be minimized; and how much the city is requesting from festival organizers to pay for revegetation. The letter also asks what roads will be closed and how traffic jams will be minimized.
Don Bessler, the city’s director of parks, open space and public facilities, responded in writing to some of Abrahamson’s questions this week. Among other points, he outlined how concertgoers will be kept out of sensitive areas and how the event will be monitored by city staff. He wrote that the concerns about plant cover and traffic are still under review and will be addressed.
Bodley, while declining to comment specifically on the Audubon letter, told Boulder Weekly that he plans to pay for water-spraying trucks to mitigate the dust problems that have occurred in the past. He also says he is paying additional police officers to direct traffic and a local farmer for any reduced yield on his hay crop at the site.
Bodley also says local raptors aren’t nesting that late in the summer, and that reservoir officials have no environmental concerns about the event. “If the park ranger had had a big problem with it, we would have picked a different place,” he says. “We’re bringing in an event that has very little environmental impact and a big economic impact.”
While he plans to offer a play area and petting zoo for kids, a mothers’ nursing tent and a wading area at the reservoir, the 70 bands on seven stages will be on city property to the south.
“The impact on the reservoir will be minimal, because people come to see the bands,” says Bodley, who is from Longmont.
Bodley also says he’s not in it for the money. The $35 entrance fee is optional, and he has donated the majority of the profits to organizations that support orphans and the homeless. (Some festival attendees camp at the site to recognize the homeless.)
City Clerk Valeria Skitt says three city advisory boards have reviewed Bodley’s plans and recommended conditions that he should meet before the city grants him the $50 permit for the event. (While city council approval is not required, council members have given it an informal nod as well.)
The list of conditions that Bodley has to meet has not been finalized yet.
“This is getting a very fine-toothcomb vetting, because we don’t usually have something this big,” Skitt told Boulder Weekly. “I’m not going to tell you this event won’t have an impact, because it’s a big event, but it’s also a big site. … They will have to put everything back to the condition they found it.”