By Heather Graves
DE PERE – Those planning to head to the Brown County Fair late next month could find it harder to find a parking spot.
The De Pere Common Council denied a request to exempt the fair from the city’s Phase 1 reopening plan, which limits gatherings to less than 50 people.
The council voted 5-3 to deny the exemption at its meeting Tuesday, July 7.
The fairgrounds are located on city and county land.
Brown County owns and regulates two-thirds of the property, which includes the barns and main facilities, while the remaining southern third is owned by the City of De Pere, and falls under Phase 1 regulations.
The portion under De Pere’s jurisdiction has historically been used for parking. However, it also includes ticket sales and the south fair entrance gate.
Some alders are concerned, with the number of people going to the county fair, the area could be used as a place to gather in larger groups.
“I’m going to uphold the city’s guidelines and thought process on the requirements and guidelines we are putting in place to try to make sure we are making positive steps forward,” said Alder Amy Chandik Kundinger. “It’s measured and thought through. We are thinking of all of our citizens in making this decision, so that we can ensure forward progress.”
Mayor James Boyd, city staff and the health department recommended denying the exemption due to the continued uncertainty with COVID-19.
“I don’t see an exemption health-wise that it’s a good idea, because of the inevitable congregating and the amount of people that are exposed to each other,” said Debbie Armbruster, De Pere Health director. “There’s a lot of asymptomatic cases, so that’s why public health is concerned.”
Some alders thought attending the fair is a decision individuals can, and should be able to make themselves.
“If the fair is open, it is really the individual’s decision if they want to pay the entrance fee to get in, vendors can decide if they want to participate, it is their choice to do that,” said Alder Dan Carpenter. “I believe that we as individuals and adults living in this country of ours can make that decision ourselves, and we don’t need a guiding hand of government to tell us what we can and cannot do. I believe the fair board and the fair staff are doing everything they can to hold it in a manner that is responsible, and I appreciate the effort they are putting into it.”
Those who voted against the exemption were concerned fair organizers couldn’t regulate the amount of people in the city-owned area at any given time, and agreed granting the exemption would be irresponsible with COVID-19 cases on the rise again.
“I hear this argument so often, that’s it’s a personal choice and we should be allowed to make our own decision when it comes to health, and that’s valid and I understand that viewpoint,” said Alder Casey Nelson. “But, we live in a society that your actions can, and do, affect other people.”
Alder Jonathon Hansen agreed, saying more important things are at stake.
“Our main priority right now is to get to a place that schools can open back up in the fall, and to have an event like this a couple weeks before schools are supposed to open from a timing standpoint raises even more concerns,” Hansen said.
Steve Corrigan, president of the Brown County Fair Association, said the board plans to hold the fair regardless of the city’s decision.
The association will now have to discuss parking options.
The fair is set to run Aug. 19-23.