MURPHYSBORO — In August 2017, the region is projecting to host anywhere between 50,000 and 500,000 visitors because of the first total solar eclipse over the U.S. since 1979, according to members of the Jackson County Board.
The Aug. 21 eclipse will reach its maximum duration of totality over Southern Illinois.
At Wednesday’s legislative and public safety committee, a sub-committee of the board, members discussed a way to attempt to keep track of where large amounts of people will be gathered for the monumental weekend next year.
Committee Chairman Keith Larkin said the state has a statute regulating campgrounds that operate more than six days a year, but there is nothing to regulate stays for a one- or two-night venture. The board is concerned about somebody with hundreds of acres looking to rent space to campers, but not having the proper facilities for sewage and trash for a potential large group of eclipse watchers.
The committee discussed a permit for property owners to obtain in order to allow campers on their land.
“The concern is not that we want to create a license that we can sell,” Larkin said. “The concern is that of public safety. Specifically with camping.”
Dan Brenner, assistant Jackson County state’s attorney, says there isn’t an ordinance drafted yet, but his office is working on one.
Larkin said he wasn’t interested in making people pay for a license to allow people to camp, but he would be interested in imposing penalties on those who are not in compliance of the ordinance. There wasn’t much talk about what such penalties may be, only that they would be included in a final ordinance.
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Jackson County Board Chairman John Rendleman said the cost of issuing the permit would have to allow for a small fee, only because of the volume of permits and the administrative work that would have to be done. He said the fee could be as small as $5.
“We want to make sure the application (fee) is low enough to provide an incentive to provide the information,” Steven Bost, committee member said. “Make that low, so we can give a lot of information and have a list, but all of a sudden if the sheriff’s office responds to a campground of 60 people and there is no license, we should be able to hammer them.”
Another concern on the minds of the board members is the fact that vendors could come to the region and sell food or merchandise around the event.
Tamiko Mueller, County Board member, proposed the idea of imposing a fee on those who are going to sell anything, just like other businesses that sell food and liquor.
Larkin said from a public perception standpoint, people need to know if they plan to sell food or alcohol they need to have a license.
“That happens every day. That is not something we are doing to try and capitalize on the eclipse.” He said. “I think the public perception could be that the county is just trying to squeeze out another permit to take advantage of those who will be here.”
The committee did not take action on the item, as the county’s legal representation is still drafting an ordinance.