County pleased with eclipse turnout, preparations

Crowds filled near the Dunkirk waterfront on Monday before the eclipse. P-J photo by Braden Carmen

No, there weren’t traffic jams, gas stations didn’t run out of fuel, and grocery stores didn’t run out of food in Chautauqua County during the eclipse.

But even though there weren’t hoards of people, local officials view the eclipse as a success for tourism and planning.

“Very early on, one of my mottos was I’d rather be over-prepared and underwhelmed than underprepared and overwhelmed. That’s kind of where we were. I think we had a very good working plan and we had a lot of readiness around the county,” explained Noel Guttman, emergency services director.

Guttman said officials throughout New York state had analyzed the communities that were impacted from the 2017 eclipse and wanted to make sure those kinds of problems didn’t happen this time. “I think there was a lot of people here … but I don’t think there was the dangerous influx of people … which is really a good thing.”

Guttman said there was a universal message encouraging people to come early, stay late, and limit travel during the eclipse itself. “There was a lot of good messaging from a lot of different partners across every aspect of media, from print media to social media, television stations, radio stations. I think people heard that. Maybe I’m being a little too optimistic but I think that was part of the reason we had a pretty good event,” he said.

This photo was captured in Portland by Christopher Rodrigue

Guttman does believe the cloudy weather Monday kept at least some people away. He said there were planes in Jamestown that left to go west and some people canceled reservations when the forecast called for cloudy weather.

Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau Director Andrew Nixon said there’s around 2,000 hotel rooms in the county and another 1,000 to 2,000 vacation rental properties and bed and breakfast locations. Those were 90 and 95% sold out. There were also a number of people who were at Chautauqua Institution and others who stayed at campgrounds. “You could have had 4,000 or more people just in accommodations, not counting folks who had driven in and driven out,” he said.

Nixon estimated there were up to 50 different events planned in the county. In the south county, the Jamestown airport had a watch party and the city of Dunkirk had an eclipse fest celebration with Steelbound Brewery at the Clarion Hotel on Route 5. Point Gratiot in Dunkirk also had a strong turnout. “Lake Erie provided a really good way to see the eclipse because of the open skies,” he said.

In terms of travel, Guttman said both Jamestown and Dunkirk broke up fairly quickly. He was not aware of any long lines, nor were there long lines on I-90 or I-86.

That wasn’t the case throughout the country.

According to the Associated Press, in some New England areas, travelers needed up to 12 hours after the eclipse before being able to leave. In New Hampshire, travelers were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the northern part of the state through at least 2 a.m. Tuesday, clogging up southbound Interstate 93. Southbound traffic on Interstate 89 also was heavy Monday evening. Southbound traffic was backed up in parts of Maine for several hours.

But had Chautauqua County have those long lines, County Executive PJ Wendel says they would have been prepared.

He suspects the weather may have kept crowds down. “Sunday was great, today’s (Tuesday) weather is great. Unfortunately, Monday was cloudy and overcast. But sometimes that’s what happens in Chautauqua County,” he said.

Wendel was at the Emergency Operations Center in Mayville and noticed that the traffic never really backed up on the highways. There was concern that people could have fled Buffalo to Cleveland, the morning of the eclipse, but that didn’t seem to be an issue.

He did note that there was a boat in distress Monday afternoon, but they were rescued without incident.

Beyond that, there were no other issues. “All in all, people had a great day, had a lot of fun and enjoyed our county,” he said.

Before the eclipse, the county did purchase some equipment, which Guttman said they will be able to use later in the future.

Some of those included electronic message boards and the First Net Compact Rapid Deployable, which is used for cell phones when towers aren’t functioning.

Guttman said this equipment will keep the county prepared for future emergency situations.

He wasn’t sure what the next major emergency service event will be, but Guttman said they will be prepared. “What it (eclipse) did, was help us eye a good blueprint for future events. … It gave us a path for future success,” he said.


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