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Wells Kernel Days events canceled

The Wells Kernel Days committee announced Wednesday on its Facebook page it canceled the fireworks and parade that had been slated for the weekend because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Committee Chairman Mike Schrader said the committee was contacted by the state Attorney General’s Office Wednesday morning regarding the plans.

“It’s unfortunate,” Schrader said. “We had a lot of community members who were looking forward to doing something. That’s what we were trying to do was give our community something to do.”

He said the committee had scaled back the traditional Kernel Days festivities, keeping in mind social distancing guidelines, and thought the fireworks and parade would be able to go forward with safe social distancing. The committee had also taken away the parade entry fee so it would be open to anyone to participate, and the fireworks were all sponsored.

He said the committee submitted its plans to the city of Wells and worked with city officials to meet their guidelines.

He does not know why the state got involved — he says he can only speculate — but said the Attorney General’s Office gave parameters and said if those parameters weren’t followed, they could risk possible penalties. The representative also said they would have to work with two state departments on the planning.

Schrader asked how other communities have been able to organize fireworks displays, and the state representative said people would have to stay in their cars or people would have to get tickets to participate to limit the number to 250.

“What happens if they don’t stay in their car? What’s going to happen if people don’t abide by our demands, or there’s too many people in the park?” Schrader said.

“In the end we felt we couldn’t — in two days — make it all work,” he said.

The sports tournaments slated for the weekend, which were planned by separate entities, have also been canceled.

John Stiles, deputy chief of staff for the Attorney General’s Office, said information about the event shared on Facebook came to the state’s attention, and the office contacted Schrader to find out more because it looked like there were going to be a lot of people attending.

He said the purpose of the Attorney General’s Office calling businesses and event planners when concerns are brought up is to educate them about state requirements, such as the need for a COVID-19 preparedness plan.

“Our office is working in conjunction with other state agencies like health and labor and industry to keep people safe in a pandemic, the likes of which nobody has lived through in a century,” Stiles said. “We take that really seriously, and our approach is to win compliance from businesses or events in their operation, so they’re doing what they’re requiring to do to keep people safe.”

He said the state had proposed setting up a call with Schrader and relevant state authorities such as the Department of Health for guidance, but Schrader initially did not want to provide information.

The office then had contact with the city of Wells, which stated the event was normally put on by the Chamber of Commerce in Wells but that the organization had decided not to be involved. The city told the state it had discouraged the committee from planning the events and reduced the number of events that were initially planned.

Stiles said in subsequent conversations with Schrader, discussions centered around the fireworks display. After finding out more, he said the state did not have concerns with the parade or the sports tournaments and noted that the organizers of the tournaments had even submitted a COVID-19 preparedness plan.

Stiles said the state told Schrader that he needed a plan to limit occupancy for the fireworks, such as with a drive-in event, but Schrader said he wasn’t interested in this discussion and later called and said the whole event had been canceled.

“It seemed like we offered suggestions, and he wasn’t willing to take the guidance,” Stiles said.

Stiles said the state has only brought enforcement against one event during the entirety of the pandemic and that was for the North Star Stampede Rodeo in Effie, in which hundreds of people came out to attend.