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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Town is ready for eclipse crowds, fire chief says
NOTL Fire Chief Jay Plato says planning for the April 8 solar eclipse has been going on for a year. FILE

It will be “go time” Monday as the town prepares to welcome an expected influx of visitors to view the April 8 solar eclipse.

Fire Chief Jay Plato, the town’s emergency management co-ordinator, has been meeting with counterparts from across Niagara for the past year to get a handle on what to expect in the days leading up to and on the day of eclipse.

While Niagara Falls has been designated as the best place to view the once-in-a-lifetime event, crowds are expected across the region, including in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“Eclipses are predictable events,” Plato said. “We’ve known this has been coming for quite some time so we’ve been staying on it, making sure that we are prepared for what’s about to come.” 

Expectations are people will come to town before eclipse day and stick around to check out the sights.

“We’re anticipating a lot of people coming here to enjoy our tourism, to enjoy the wineries, to enjoy Old Town and then managing that,” Plato said.

It’s not that the town has not had experience with large numbers of people coming into town for a special event. Plato pointed to concerts by the Tragically Hip in 2012 and Mumford & Sons in 2015. Both those shows were held at the Commons.

“What’s unique with a concert is it’s a very targeted area and people are coming into town going to that very specific location,” Plato said.

“We’re able to kind of guide and directly manage where people are going (and) how to assist them getting there.”

The eclipse will be different.

“This takes place in the sky and you can look at it anywhere. So we can’t necessarily control where people will want to go or where they will want to be if they’re coming to Niagara-on-the-Lake to view it.”

While the town has no plans for an official viewing event, wineries across NOTL have events on tap, so the expectation is for traffic to be heavy.

“We’re just really going to be kind of managing where people seem to be going and then kind of pivoting from there,” Plato said.

Staff from across town departments will be assigned to various locations in town so the impact of heavy traffic on town roads is mitigated.

“From a town perspective, we’ve made plans to be able to have staff be able to pivot quickly to handle certain situations.”

Using water/wastewater staff as an example, Plato said it was important that the town be able to respond to issues such as a water main break if they arise.

“We don’t want our own staff fighting traffic to try to get somewhere, so we’re going to have staff positioned strategically around (town) to effectively still deliver community services.”

For that same reason, fire stations in town will be staffed by volunteer firefighters in the event there is an emergency, Plato said.

But despite that, traffic control plans are only to involve “soft road closures” on some residential streets rather than the “hard closure” of roads that will be instituted in other municipalities in Niagara.

“Fort Erie and Niagara Falls have got some hard road closures because they’re basically creating some pedestrian walkways,” Plato said.

“We want to keep traffic flowing and protect our neighbourhoods.”

Normal parking rules will apply throughout town, so beware.

“If you’re directly parking in areas that you should not be parking in, that may warrant getting a ticket,” Plato said.

“But if somebody is still in the car, it’s about approaching them and engaging and educating them, saying, ‘You can’t be here. Please move along.’ ” 

Niagara Region has declared a State of Emergency for April 8 and some facilities will be closed to help reduce traffic. Additionally, both the public and Catholic school boards have designated the day of the eclipse as a PA day.

hutton@niagaranow.com

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