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Saturday's Ozzfest show will be first real test of amphitheater's impact on roads

By Kevin Hanson, The Courier-Herald

The first two concerts at the new White River Amphitheatre didn't cause a ton of problems - especially in the Enumclaw area - but the first real test is about to come.

Those who predicted dire consequences stemming from the concert venue owned by the Muckleshoot Tribe have pointed to two shows that will likely cause the greatest disruption. The first of those is Ozzfest, coming Saturday, with the second being Lollapalooza, scheduled for Aug. 23. The amphitheater's opening concert, featuring Seattle rock back Heart, drew an estimated crowd of between 10,000 and 11,000. The second show, Beck, attracted far less.

It's acknowledged those smaller concerts attracted a different audience than is anticipated for Ozzfest, which is a head-banger's delight. The daylong show - gates will open at 9 a.m. - will bring such acts as KORN, shock-rocker Marilyn Manson and Cradle of Filth, along with "The Prince of Darkness," headliner Ozzy Osbourne.

Sgt. Kirk Merrill of the Washington State Patrol, who works out of the department's Enumclaw office, has had a lead role in planning for concert-related activities. He has received advice from WSP counterparts in central Washington, who patrol the area of The Gorge at George, and also spoken with law enforcement agencies in cities surrounding the White River Amphitheatre. He's not anticipating huge problems, he said, but has taken steps "so everybody is on the same sheet of music."

Acknowledging that Ozzfest will be "the first big test" for the region's system of state highways and county roads, Merrill said, "I'm sure we'll have a few little snafus." To combat the potential troubles stemming from a crowd he expects to number about 15,000, "we'll have a few more troopers in the area" on Saturday, Merrill said. Also, "we're prepared to deal with people who are impaired," he added.

Concert promoters are touting state Route 169 as a key access road for anyone traveling from the north, taking concertgoers directly through the city of Black Diamond. "We have clearly noticed an increase in traffic" on concert days, said Chris Hurst of the city's police department. He confirmed local officers have been in contact with the State Patrol and added that Black Diamond will "probably have additional people patrolling on the 12th."

Enumclaw Police Chief Bruce Weigel said he hasn't noticed anything too dramatic during concerts, comparing traffic on those days to "a heavy ski weekend." But, he admits, Ozzfest could present challenges above and beyond those stemming from the Heart and Beck shows. "We're taking a stand-by position," he said, adding there will be no additional police presence on the 12th. But, if the situation changes, he said, additional members of the force can be called into action.

Dennis Popp, director at Enumclaw Community Hospital, realizes his industry can be impacted by nearby concert sites. He has talked with staff at the two hospitals closest to The Gorge, and they advised Popp to be aware of "what kinds of concerts are coming up on the schedule." Hospitals need to be aware when there's a show catering to a "younger, less mature" audience, he said.

The Enumclaw hospital so far has had no patients admitted from concert-related incidents, Popp said. But, anticipating a different crowd for Ozzfest, the hospital will schedule an extra nurse for the emergency room on Saturday, he said.

Kevin Hanson can be reached at khanson@courierherald.com

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