County, Camp Gaea complete settlement
A Leavenworth County District Court Judge finalized an agreement this week concerning Camp Gaea, a controversial retreat center 10 miles north of Tonganoxie.
The agreement allows the retreat center to reopen, although under guidelines agreed upon between Camp Gaea representatives and the Leavenworth County Commission.
Under the settlement agreement, the retreat center must abide by noise regulations, pay a road impact fee and for chemical treatment for 600 feet of 235th Street.
As long as the terms are met, Camp Gaea will not have to renew the special-use permit again, according to the settlement agreement.
A lawsuit filed by Earth Rising Inc., the camp's operators, has also been dismissed.
The non-profit organization sought $50,000 to cover attorney fees and legal expenses in the lawsuit, but under the settlement no money will be exchanged.
Camp Gaea representatives said they are continuing to pay for expenses associated with the camp's effort to regain the special use permit.
John Pearse, director of Earth Rising, said his organization is paying legal expenses, currently totaling approximately $20,000.
The organization also lost one event while it wasn't allowed to operate, which would have garnered the retreat center another $6,000, he said.
However, Leavenworth County officials and camp representatives said the terms of the settlement was acceptable to both sides.
"It looks like it's as good as it's going to get," Leavenworth County Commissioner Joe Daniels said. "We got the best deal we could."
"I think it covers all the basics," Pearse said. "We're all happy that this is over."
An independent mediator negotiated the settlement agreement during a meeting between the two sides in March.
Daniels said the arbitration allowed both sides to have some influence on the decision instead of it being decided in court.
Settling the issue during arbitration was best for both sides, he said.
"I think it probably was. What would have happened, is that it would continue to go on through the court system and it could have been very expensive and very time consuming," Daniels said.
In Oct., the Leavenworth County Commissioners denied Camp Gaea's special-use permit. The Leavenworth County Planning Commission had also previously denied the camp's renewal.
During the two renewal hearings both governing bodies heard several Leavenworth County residents state opposition to the camp.
Camp Gaea detractors listed traffic problems along 235th Street and moral impropriety as reasons for opposition.
Large gatherings at Camp Gaea events crowded the streets, opponents said.
Nude people could also be seen walking around during events, they added.
However, it appears that neither reason will be a problem in the future.
Under the settlement agreement, only one camp event a year can exceed more than 750 people.
Also, Pearse said Camp Gaea would put up screening around open areas to prevent people seeing nudity.
"We're going to do some screening to keep people from staring in," he said.
Limiting the number of camp visitors isn't a problem, Pearse added.