In upcoming meetings, Lincoln County Commissioners will evaluate the events of the Storm Area 51 weekend held Sept. 19-22.
Commission chair Varlin Higbee said he was relieved the massive crowds expected for the events at Hiko and Rachel didn’t materialize.
Higbee noted, “We don’t know what it is going to cost the county. We don’t have all the figures in. Hopefully we allocated enough money to cover all of it.”
On Sept. 16, in addition to declaring a county emergency, commissioners pulled $250,000 from accrued interest in the Lincoln County Land Act Fund to add to an earlier $50,000 to cover costs.
Both Connie West and George Harris, local promoters of the events Sept. 20-22, have said they plan to hold similar events in 2020.
Higbee said that might be possible “if they do it right. They will need to control their numbers, control their tickets and take care of all the security, medical and infrastructures. Then we won’t have to set up the Incident Command Center that was being used at Tikaboo for law enforcement, fire and EMS needs. We didn’t know this first time what would be needed. It was just the unknown.”
Another factor that caused quite a bit of concern for county officials was that there was so little time between when the idea took off as a social media craze on Facebook in June, targeting Sept. 20-21 as the dates. Large events require many months of detailed planning, not mere weeks.
Therefore Higbee said the county could breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t the overwhelming event originally envisioned. “We didn’t know if we were going to get 30,000 or 300,000.”
County Sheriff Kerrey Lee had said in advance of the weekend, “We were planning for the worst and hoping for the best.” For the most part, it was the best that came out.
Higbee gave high praise to “the help given by our southern neighbors, personnel from different agencies and how well they worked together.”
If it hadn’t have been for them [Clark County], we would have been in trouble.” He specifically cited Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick and “her resources, her people, her manpower – I can’t say enough.”
The Great Basin Grocery store and Sinclair gas station didn’t run out of food and gasoline because the anticipated high traffic volume didn’t occur. Green Valley Grocery at Ash Springs declined to comment.
“If they had all come and stayed, we might have had a problem,” Higbee said, “but a lot of the people came and stayed for a few hours to one place or the other, and then went home.” Some camped out for the weekend, but not overwhelming numbers.
The main takeaway from the weekend which commissioners will take up in future discussions is, “that if an event of this magnitude occurs again, it’s manageable. We can do this. We only had two months to prepare, then other agencies started to offer their services. But they stepped up … and now we know if this happens again, it’s a doable thing.”
Questions such as these and others, including whether the event turned out to be a cultural marker for Lincoln County, or a monumental dud or something in between, will be topics of discussion by both the county commission board and county planning director.
An additional positive from the weekend, Higbee said, was that people mostly cleaned up after themselves before they left.