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Feb. 27 is new tentative date for acquiring BWCA permits

The new online reservation system touted as an upgrade for acquiring Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness travel permits failed and shut down quickly after going live last month. Now, the system could reopen Feb. 27.

The U.S. Forest Service announced the tentative date Friday after meetings earlier this week with northern Minnesota outfitters and business people, the contractor in charge of the website, and congressional staffers.

The Forest Service said in a statement that it is working on technical problems with the software; on planning training sessions for “permit cooperators,” such as outfitters; and on testing the site before it goes live to the public. After that, the agency said it will confirm a date.

“We deeply regret the difficulty this has caused, and I want to thank the members of the community who are working with us to make this transition to an online reservation system successful,” Superior National Forest Supervisor Connie Cummins said in the statement.

Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely Outfitting Company was present at meetings Feb. 4 and Monday to discuss the system rollout failure on recreation.gov. He, among others, complained about the planning and execution by the Forest Service and its contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton. Earlier this week, he said the contractor was evasive in meetings about the breadth of the problems with the system. (Related Star Tribune story here.)

Still, he told the Star Tribune on Friday after the Forest Service announcement that the agency’s  latest forecast “looks reasonable. I’m hopeful they promptly give us a plan/timeframe for testing and training.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber’s office has organized a public meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday at Grand Ely Lodge in Ely, Minn., to discuss the permit system problems.

Crashed BWCA permit system won't re-open until at least Feb. 19

The new online reservation system for securing permits in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness that opened and quickly crashed a week ago won’t go live until Feb. 19 or later.

U.S. Forest Service representatives announced the date after a meeting Monday between the agency, the reservation system contractor, outfitters and other business people. More meetings are scheduled.

The permit system on the national website recreation.gov failed shortly after it went live Jan. 30, shutting out an untold number of users and creating questions for those who managed to snag permits.

Jason Zabokrtsky of Ely Outfitting Company, who was present Monday, said the meeting over the rollout failure had some answers but left many questions, too. He said representatives from the contractor, Booz Allen Hamilton, tried to explain why the crash occurred, but the explanation was vague.

“They blamed a ‘cascading’ problem of ‘other things,’ " Zabokrtsky said in an email to the Star Tribune.

“This raises serious concerns about the contractor's ability to resolve the technical problems for a second attempt at go live,” he added.

Zabokrtsky said his group, which included representatives from the congressional offices of Minnesota's Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Pete Stauber, requested that the Forest Service provide a list of known problems with the system in advance of future meetings.

“It is imperative that these significant problems with the system are fixed ASAP …Frankly, right now we don't have any idea who is actually responsible for the process of implementing a permitting system that works,” Zabokrtsky said.

A Forest Service spokesperson could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning, but Kawishiwi District ranger Gus Smith, summed up the meeting in a letter afterward to the gathering. He wrote that the contractor “described what went wrong on (Jan. 30) and how they will fix it, and test it to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Smith said the agency will offer training on the permit system at recreation.gov to outfitters and others before the system goes live — something many had requested in advance of Jan. 30 to no avail, according to Zabokrtsky. Smith said the system wouldn't be back up until at least Feb. 19.

Outfitters had complained loudly about changes to the system. Some warned supervisors at the Forest Service ahead of the changes that the crush of first-come, first-served online reservations would overwhelm the capacity of the site — the same website used for booking reservations to national parks.

The group that met with the Forest Service also included representatives from Camp Widjiwagan; Custom Cabin Rentals; and Williams and Hall Outfitters, among others.

Stauber's office announced Wednesday that the congressman is hosting a meeting for the public at 10 a.m. Saturday at Grand Ely Lodge in Ely, Minn., to discuss the permit system problems.