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Town hopes for ‘best’ with eclipse

Kyle Damon, East Town of Dunkirk Fire Chief (left) and Terry Grisanti, Chautauqua County Fire Advisory Board member (right) spoke at a recent Dunkirk Town Board meeting about plans for the eclipse on April 8.

On Monday, April 8, an eclipse will engulf the region, with the potential for an overwhelming amount of tourists visiting the area. The Town of Dunkirk has begun to brace itself for the event, with emergency crews already taking measures to be prepared.

Kyle Damon, East Town of Dunkirk Fire Chief; James Odien, West Town of Dunkirk Fire Chief; Terry Grisanti, Chautauqua County Fire Advisory Board member; and Chuck Holder, Emergency Planning Coordinator of SUNY Fredonia all attended a recent Dunkirk Town Board meeting to speak on the upcoming eclipse.

“We’re just trying to prepare for the worst, and hoping for the best,” Damon said. “We’ve never done this before. We’re hoping to be over-prepared and underwhelmed.”

Damon said the East Town Fire Department will be staffed from Thursday, April 4 until Tuesday, April 9 to be prepared for emergencies. He noted upwards of a million people could travel through the region over the weekend leading up to and through the eclipse.

“We’re just trying to get ahead of that as best we can,” Damon said.

OBSERVER Photos by Braden Carmen Chuck Holder, Emergency Planning Coordinator of SUNY Fredonia, spoke at a recent Dunkirk Town Board meeting about plans for the eclipse on April 8.

Grisanti said Chautauqua County is “heavily” preparing for the event. “We want to talk about this on April 9 and say it really wasn’t that bad,” Grisanti said.

“The County actually is doing a much better job than some of the counties in the state. They are ahead of the ballgame,” Holder said.

Major areas of concern for the town include the intersection of Brigham Road and Waldorff Road near SUNY Fredonia and the County Fairgrounds, as well as the State Thruway intersection with Bennett Road and Vineyard Drive.

Damon called the Thruway intersection a “potential nightmare” with the amount of tourists exiting the Thruway onto Town roads at what is already one of the busiest intersections in Chautauqua County. Damon has already contacted County and State representatives with the Department of Transportation for assistance with the Thruway intersection. Emergency personnel will also look into a portable stop light to be installed at the intersection of Brigham Road and Waldorff Road.

Grisanti stated that while the event will be in its totality from three to four minutes, the entire eclipse will last for two to three hours. “The aftermath will take hours and hours to clear out,” Grisanti said.

Damon also noted that in similar events throughout the nation in the past, major highways were backed up from 12-16 hours after the eclipse concluded. “People are going to pull over and wonder what’s going on, look up, and once traffic stops, it’s going to back up,” Damon said.

Holder noted SUNY Fredonia will be utilizing a drone camera to monitor traffic patterns during the timeframe of the event.

Residents are urged to prepare for the event by having necessities available prior to the weekend, including necessary medications and food, with the increased likelihood of major traffic jams or road closures in case of emergencies.

“The list of concerns is long. We’re just hoping that everybody follows the rules and we’re just over-prepared for what we think might happen,” Damon said.

Town Supervisor Priscilla Penfold called the presentation of information “enlightening.” She later thanked the emergency personnel for attending the meeting. “Thank you for what you’re doing to keep us safe and keep our town safe,” she said.

Informational meetings have also been scheduled in the Town of Hanover at the Town Hall and Court, on March 6 at 7 p.m., and the village of Brocton at Brocton Central School, on March 12 at 6 p.m., to inform community leaders and residents of ways to prepare for the eclipse.

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