A state official falsely claimed an "armed militia" was hired for security at the Sandusky Bay Barge Party on Saturday, said Shaun Bickley, the promoter of the music, dance and bikini-fest.
In an email sent Wednesday to nearly 80 members of local law enforcement agencies, Jeff Nehls, Ohio Department of Natural Resources's Sandusky-area supervisor, said an officer from ODNR's watercraft division “was informed by a reliable source (who wishes to remain anonymous) that there may be armed militia individuals providing security for Shaun Bickley.”
“Other information is that the 'militia' person(s) own a boat,” the message continued. “It is unknown if these individuals will be carrying openly or concealed.
“This is absolutely ridiculous,” Bickley told the Register.
Bickley said none of his employees, whether for his business or the party, are involved in a militia.
“We don't carry guns,” he said. “We don't carry knives. We don't carry bats.”
Bickley said he and Nehls had a disagreement last year when ODNR agents tied off at the Cove fueling station Bickley operates and began a stop and search of a customer who also was tied off there. Bickley does not allow law enforcement to operate from his property.
The two men resolved the conflict, Bickley said, but Nehls' email suggests to him Nehls might be holding a serious grudge, and it sparked his "bone-headed" email.
"These are serious, serious allegations," Bickley said. "Enough is enough."
The recipients of the Nehls' email, in addition to local sheriffs and police departments, included officials and agents with federal agencies Homeland Security and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Bickley has worked in past years to keep ODNR, the Coast Guard and other local agencies informed of the operational plan for the Barge Party, which attracts as many, or more than 1,000 boats and 6,000 visitors. Bickley anchors the barge bayside at the sandbar, which sits between the bay and the lake and extends from Marblehead to near the Cedar Point peninsula.
The barge is used as both a stage for the band and dance floor.
Despite keeping an open dialogue, in 2012 ODNR stopped and boarded a vessel being operated by Bickley's father, Joel Bickley. The Coast Guard also stopped numerous other boaters who attended the Barge Party.
Bickley canceled the event last year but is bringing it back Saturday.
Nehls did not respond to inquiries from the Register, and ODNR provided a response but did not address the questions raised.
The information about an "armed militia" was provided area law enforcement “to enhance the safety of the public and officers in advance of an event that, in the past, has required some intervention from law enforcement.”
It appears ODNR never contacted Bickley after receiving the anonymous tip.
Bickley said he's angry.
“I don't know what they're looking for,” he said. “For them to go and say we're hiring a militia and we're armed is (expletive).”
The men working security are “lifelong employees,” and the party is organized by a group of about five people, he said.
The party started as a way for Bickley to give back to the community and provide a fun afternoon on the water, he said.
Bickley said he called Nehls after he learned of the email.
ODNR released a second message Wednesday, stating “Shaun Bickley has contacted local law enforcement concerning 'militia' comments. According to Mr. Bickley ,he has not hired any security or 'militia' personnel for this weekend's upcoming Barge Party.”
Bickley said he's contacted his attorney and is considering pursuing legal action.