Every August for more than 20 years, the largest relay race in North America has been running through our backyards. The Hood to Coast Relay, a 196-mile race from Timberline Lodge to Seaside, attracted 1,000 12-person teams this year, plus their vans, support staff and fans. On top of that, another 5,400 people took part in the associated Portland to Coast Relay Walk and High School Challenge.

For the Seaside Chamber of Commerce, Hood to Coast is a major fundraiser. For merchants, restaurants and motels, the event is a big money-maker.

For the participants, it's a wonderful weekend of fitness and fun, albeit an expensive one: Each team must pay a non-refundable $960 registration fee ($840 for the Walk, $50 for the Challenge) to the events' organizer, Foote Sports Productions Inc. of Portland.

But for many residents of Clatsop County, the influx of the fleet of foot translates into traffic jams on narrow rural roads, noises in the night and even occasional trespassing and property damage.

In past years, runners have been known to relieve themselves in local yards.

Each year, Foote Sports must obtain a permit from Clatsop County, which comes with conditions attached. One of those is a requirement for a toll-free public phone number for information and complaints about the race. The number must be accessible 24 hours a day during the race and during regular business hours for five days before and 10 days after the race.

For several years, including this year, the phone number provided by Foote Productions has been long-distance, not toll-free. When questioned about this by The Daily Astorian, Foote spokeswoman Gail MacIntyre, who is executive director of the race committee, said people who used the number would be reimbursed the small cost of a long distance call if they wished.

But that's not good enough for Chief Deputy Paul Williams of the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office, the agency responsible for enforcing the permit.

"Most people would feel silly (asking for reimbursement)," Williams said Friday. "But people are less likely to call."

Williams said he talked with MacIntyre at length about the matter last week and told her from now on the phone number provided must be toll-free. In addition, the county will want a report on how many calls come in, the nature of the complaints, and how they were rectified at the time or will be in the future.

With that information in hand, CCSO will specify what remedies must be in place for Foote Sports to be able to get a permit for the next year. In addition, a Foote representative must come before the County Commission to request the permit well ahead of the event, instead of waiting until the last minute.

If Foote Sports doesn't set up the number, Williams said the Sheriff's Office will do it and bill them for the cost. He said MacIntyre said her reason for not doing it for the last several years was that she wanted the calls coming to her cell phone rather to someone sitting in Portland. But he said an 800 number can be set up to ring through to her cell phone.

Williams said Foote Sports Productions Inc. pays the county for the extra manpower it puts on the roads during Hood to Coast, such as Search and Rescue team members, the Posse and deputies on overtime. He estimates organizers take in around $100,000 or more through registrations and sponsorships, so it would be wrong for Clatsop County taxpayers to foot any of the bill for the annual race.

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