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PERMIT RESCINDED: Council votes ‘no’ on U.P. City Fest

At left, Ishpeming resident Kathleen Bengston Barabe speaks at the podium during a special Ishpeming City Council meeting on Wednesday. Bengston Barabe was one of more than a dozen people who spoke in opposition to the Saturday event, citing concerns with the spread of COVID-19. About 20 people spoke in favor of holding the festival. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

ISHPEMING — The U.P. City Fest event scheduled for Saturday at Al Quaal Recreation Area in Ishpeming will not be permitted. The Ishpeming City Council voted 3-2 at a special meeting on Wednesday to rescind its Aug. 5 action to permit the event.

Dozens of people spoke during public comment during the meeting, which was held at the Lake Bancroft Mining Heritage Pavilion.

Roughly 20 people spoke in support of the Lifelight Communications Inc. nonprofit religious event, which would have included motocross by ZeroGravityOutreach and music by Sanctus Real. Many of the individuals who spoke in favor of holding the free event stated they resided in Marquette, Michigamme, Ishpeming Township and Gwinn. More speakers supported the event than opposed it by a small margin.

They cited the need for social interaction following an extended lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the message of hope the event would send, and highlighted the extra precautions that would be taken to ensure the safety of attendees.

Those opposed to the event pointed to the cancellation of every major annual event held in the city as a result of coronavirus restrictions. They also expressed concerns about the enforcement of social distancing and mask wearing.

Dr. Matthew Songer, organizer for the U.P. City Fest, answers questions from Ishpeming City Council members during the meeting. The council voted 3-2 to rescind a prior decision to allow the festival at Al Quaal Recreation Area on Saturday. (Journal photo by Lisa Bowers)

Ishpeming Township resident Jane Mariuzza said she supported the event and its message but could not support the timing of it.

“Why Ishpeming and why now?” Mariuzza asked.

Kathleen Bengston Barabe, another resident of the city, also questioned the timing. She cited conflicting information surrounding the spread of the virus and conspiracy theories.

“I have nothing against U.P. City Fest, I think it’s an amazing opportunity. But we don’t have anything truly solid,” Bengston Barabe said. “I think this is very premature.”

Councilors Lindsay Bean and Jason Chapman called for the special meeting after being contacted by multiple residents regarding the event, which could have been attended by up to 500 people.

Bean told attendees

at Wednesday’s meeting that she is “not in the habit of second guessing her decisions.”

“(This) has weighed on me pretty heavily,” Bean said. “… I had people emailing me and calling me, saying: ‘Don’t you think this is real?’ Of course I think this is real. I don’t dispute any of the numbers that have been said. I disagree that we need to shut everything down completely. Sooner or later, we are going to have to do things in ways that are outlined by the governor. (And) I think we have found a pretty good balance. This one seems to have tipped — at least the public opinion scale — the other way. I think part of that was the 500-person group size.”

Bean said she had researched Lifelight events held in Kingsford and Iron River and was concerned about some of the images she saw and feedback she received.

“I can say that the feedback was mixed. And then I looked on social media to see, well, what does it look like? What does it look like in these other communities and how are these things being addressed? The photos that I was able to find, some show not a lot of people and others show a lot of people,” Bean said.

Councilor Pat Scanlon, who voted against the measure to rescind the permit, said the biggest complaint he hears in the community is the lack of activities.

“There is nothing to do, there is nothing for the kids to do,” Scanlon said. “And now we are trying and we are getting beat… We are following the law, that’s all I’ve got.”

Mayor Mike Tonkin, who cast the second “no” vote regarding the rescinding of the permit, said the decision was not easy to make, but urged councilors to follow city policy and procedure.

“I haven’t agreed with the governor for closing things off the way she has, and now we have an organization coming in that’s following every rule that the governor puts out there. (Dr. Matt Songer) came in and filled out all the paperwork, went through all the steps, presented to council. And I ask myself, is there any reason for me to shut them down? Because this is an organized outdoor activity that complies with the governor’s edict … We have to be very careful about the hysteria that goes on with this thing.”

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.

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