A sign detailing modified health protocols for the Wednesday Market is seen here at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska on June 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A sign detailing modified health protocols for the Wednesday Market is seen here at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska on June 10, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna to look at public gathering policy

The policy would not limit private or public gatherings on private property within city limits.

A policy to address public events and large gatherings is on the agenda for Soldotna’s City Council this week, and its adoption could affect everything from birthday parties to the Wednesday Market.

The proposed policy was drafted by City Manager Stephanie Queen and submitted it to the council on June 17, following discussion around the issue at the June 10 council meeting. During that meeting, council member Jordan Chilson introduced a motion to close Soldotna Creek Park to all organized events exceeding 100 people through Sept. 30, while allowing events of up to 250 people at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Chilson’s motion was tabled and is not included in the policy proposed by Queen. It could still be reintroduced for discussion at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Queen’s proposed policy divides events into four categories and provides different guidelines for each. The policy would only apply to reservations, rental and use of city parks and would not limit private or public gatherings on private property within city limits.

Soldotna’s city council will meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. to discuss adopting the policy, but some version of it could be implemented even if the council takes no action.

“My plan – absent any council action – would be to implement these rules administratively (per the specific authority granted in SMC 12.28.300),” Queen said in the original draft of the policy. “My goal, however, is for council to discuss, amend, and ultimately adopt the policy at your June 24 meeting.”

Soldotna Municipal Code states that parks and campgrounds can be closed to certain uses “as the city council, city manager or campground director shall find reasonably necessary.”

Prohibited events

The first category in Queen’s proposed policy lists events and activities that would be prohibited regardless of size because they are considered “high risk” for spreading COVID-19. This category would include all live music performances, the use of stage facilities for performances, speakers or presenters, beer and wine gardens and attractions intended specifically for children, like bounce houses.

Allowable events and activities are split into three different categories, depending on their size.

Small gatherings (25 people or fewer)

Small public gatherings and private events of fewer than 25 people fall under one category. Events in this category would be allowed under the proposed policy and do not require prior approval from the City, but there are still guidelines associated with these events.

Attendance would have to be limited to 25 people. The host or organizer is encouraged to keep a list of attendees with contact information in case it is needed by public health officials investigating positive cases of COVID-19.

Attendees for small gatherings are encouraged to follow current guidance from Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including practicing good hygiene, maintaining social distance and wearing a cloth face covering.

Mid-sized gatherings (25 to 100 people)

Public and private events where between 25 and 100 people are expected to attend fall under the next category. Events of this kind will be allowed but will require prior approval from the city manager or the Parks and Recreation director.

The host or organizer will be required to submit a COVID-10 Mitigation Plan to the City that describes “in detail” how the event will comply with federal and state health guidelines.

At a minimum, event staff and volunteers will be required to wear a mask or cloth face covering, and attendees should be encouraged to bring and use face coverings at the event.

Event organizers would also be required to include details on how they will ensure adequate cleaning and disinfection supplies, maintaining social distance, tracking and limiting attendance and designating a point of contact that has knowledge of the mitigation plan.

The COVID-19 Mitigation Plan will be included in the facility rental agreement between the City and the event organizers.

Large gatherings and markets

Some events, such as the weekly Wednesday Market in Soldotna Creek Park, regularly have more than 100 people in attendance but are still able to achieve some degree of social distancing due to the nature of the event. Community events like this that are largely booth-based and sponsored by a local community organization will be allowed under the proposed policy, but the sponsor will be required to work directly with the city manager to develop a mitigation plan specific to the event. The city manager will be authorized to approve these events on a case-by-case basis.

Events of this kind will have to adhere to the same guidelines as smaller events, plus a few additional requirements. “Large crowds” will not be allowed to congregate during these events, and organizers will be responsible for ensuring social distance is maintained. The organizer would also be required to have sufficient staff, volunteer and financial resources to implement the mitigation plan without placing an “undue burden” on city resources.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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