By Scott Sullivan
Arf! The SaugatuckDouglas Area Business Association’s “Erin Go Bark” St. Patrick’s Day pet parade will return to Saugatuck Saturday, March 12 despite safety concerns voiced by Saugatuck Township Fire District Chief Greg Janik.
Pet and human participants will line up starting at 12:30 p.m. east of Wicks Park on Water Street between Francis and Hoffman streets, with the parade running per the route shown from 1 to 1:30 p.m. and ending back at the park.
Janik — one of six local public safety officials to prepare an 8-page white paper furnished Saugatuck City Council Monday regarding increased route security in the wake of six people dying at hands of a runaway SUV driver during a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisc. — declined on the STFD’s behalf to OK the approved route.
City and SDABA officials, aware of efforts by the Parade Security Ad Hoc Committee — joining Janik as members were Douglas Police Chief Steve Kent, Allegan County Sheriff’s Lt. Brett Ensfield, STFD Capt. Mike Betts, board chair Jane Verplank and secretary Dan Fox — met with Betts and Ensfield virtually to pre-plan the increased-security parade route shown in the map nearby.
It shows police cars stationed at the corners of Butler and Culver streets plus Water and Mary streets along with sawhorse barriers in case police get called away. Cones, sawhorse or 3-tier type access barriers would be placed at cross street intersections.
“Unfortunately,” Janik told the city Feb. 25, “based on the documentation submitted I cannot in good conscience approve the St. Patrick’s Day parade. I do not believe adequate safety measures are being proposed to prevent vehicles interacting with pedestrians.
“The City,” he went on, “has been advised of inexpensive alternative barriers which could be used but, for whatever reason, I do not have documentation from the City that indicates they will pursue those options.”
Examples shared in the white paper might be fire, police and public works vehicles, school buses, all of which might be mustered on short order, water-filled interlocking and concrete barriers.
SDABA’s special events application noted the parade would involve three to five volunteers and draw a “very rough estimate” of 200 to 300 attendees.
The city public works department signed off on it asking for more information about barricades. So did the Ensfield for the Sheriff’s department, noting it recommended a 1 to 2 p.m. parade timeframe. The fire district didn’t, as council member Ken Trester took note of during last Thursday’s council workshop.
Council members said Monday they were confident security concerns voiced could be worked out.
As fire chief, Janik noted in his email Feb. 25, he answers to the STFD board and, should the city wish, present the application conditions at its next meeting for discussion and action. “I would be glad to do so and will certainly abide the board’s decision,” he said.
The board’s next regular meeting will not be until March 21, but a special meeting could be called.
“If the City would like the fire department to assist with providing 3-5 vehicles, and drivers, to serve as access control barriers for parades, we would be happy to do so,” Janik said.
The Erin Go Bark event, paused for two years due to Covid concerns, is comparatively small compared to other local holiday parade traditions.
No one wants to rain on parades, nor necessarily to reign over them. But for those who think increased security concerns are an overreaction might be reminded Waukesha residents likely also felt “It can’t happen here” — until it did.
“Unfortunately,” reads the white paper, “threats to public safety evolve. At places and events that once seemed perfectly safe, the public can now face real and potentially horrific risk.”
The ad hoc group’s report seeks in particular to mitigate what it calls “the real and present danger” of “violence intentionally targeted toward innocent citizens attending parades.”
“All parades are not equal,” the report goes on, noting the Saugatuck Fourth of July and Douglas Adult Halloween parades tend to be the largest in the community, hence pose the most significant risks.
It proposes risk mitigation consultation meetings five weeks before they happen among municipal (including public works), police and fire district plus others as appropriate to address risks via means including:
• Routes and expected sizes, with special attention paid to shortening routes, for smaller parades especially.
• Beginning daytime parades no later than 10 a.m. and concluding no later than noon.
• Assessing the need for, locations of and providing access- blocking equipment, including municipal, public safety and other resources.
• For larger, A-designated parades (i.e., aforementioned July 4 and Halloween events) a plan to notice and re-locate parked cars from the parade route to reduce threat and control crowds.
• Specific commitments on related safety issues, e.g., organizers’ responsibility to advise every participant of rules including: no candy-throwing, no operators exiting vehicles during the parade and maintaining close distance between parade vehicles with no gaps.
“While the sort of effort, expense and time commitment outlined here is certainly called for by recent events, none of us likes it,” concludes the white paper. “That said, while we may all wish for simpler, less dangerous times, behaving as though no such risks exist would betray our collective duty to our tax-paying constituencies.
“As a result, we stand committed to supporting the jurisdictions’ responsibility to their citizens and area visitors for safe parades,” the paper says.
By Scott Sullivan