With just 10 days to go, they couldn’t spend any more time parading around the issue.
Clad in bright orange shirts for a show in solidarity, all 12 members of the Washington Township Community Events Organization came to the township committee’s work session Wednesday night to settle some unfinished business.
The all-volunteer committee, which coordinates and organizes the annual Washington Township Fireworks Festival – set for Saturday, Sept. 21 – was denied by Chief of Police Michael Bailey authorization to hold its pre-festival parade on specific roadways in the valley section of the township.
But it’s not without good reason, the chief said.
Both sides came before the township committee to settle on a parade route that would be safe for all involved, but long enough for participants and spectators to enjoy.
The last parade was held in 2010, and that, from a safety standpoint, was close to disastrous, Bailey told the committee.
Parade participants staged on Carl Lane and headed toward the parade route via Old Farmers Road. The group would then make a left onto East Mill Road, where they would proceed through town to the Long Valley Middle School.
The issue, Bailey said, was that most motorists were heading into town from the east – Chester – and trying to get to points further west and south.
“The traffic backed up past Bartley (Road), and drivers just started parking everywhere,” Bailey said. “If this route is used again, there need to be significant signs placed long before the parade and during, because the officers just don’t have time to give specific directions to each and every driver needing to detour.
“It got to a point where we had to be rude to people to get our point across,” Bailey said. “And that’s not how we do business. It’s just not a safe environment.”
Josh Drake, president of the WTCEO, brought his emotions to the table in an effort to explain the group’s side.
“The past month has been crazy arguing this point,” Drake said to the governing body and police chief. “We’re doing this for the town. We’re a group of 12 people doing all the legwork here, and we’re just looking for some help.”
The 2010 parade had about 30 participants, Drake said, and this year is expecting approximately 50.
“At most, I think Old Farmers would be closed for about 30 minutes while all the participants go from Carl (Lane) to East Mill (Road),” Drake said.
Logistics, Time Lacking
Bailey said if the parade route the WTCEO was looking for was authorized by the committee, six off-duty officers being paid overtime rates would be needed to keep detour points guarded.
As of Wednesday night, Bailey said he and Lt. Doug Compton – two senior officers that often bookend road closure projects – would be unavailable that day. If not enough Washington Township Police officers were available, the WTCEO may have to use personnel from Chester Township.
“That happened in 2010,” WTCEO Vice President Pam Hoskin said of the use of out-of-town officers. “And it cost us triple the price of our own officers. It was very frustrating. We can’t spend that kind of money. If that happens again, you can just about guarantee there won’t be another parade or festival.”
Drake said digital signboards from Morris County would be placed in town as of Monday, Sept. 16 alerting motorists of the road closures leading up to Saturday.
Cones and barricade use, however, still need to be arranged with the Department of Public Works.
Committeeman Tracy Tobin recommended members of the Office of Emergency Management Community Emergency Response Team (C.E.R.T.) be used, as some have been trained in traffic control.
The committee also plans to reach out to the Morris County Sheriff’s Office to see if any volunteer officers would be available, and Mayor Ken Short told Bailey he’d be asking local officers to donate their time as well.
More certainty regarding the issue is expected on Monday at the committee’s regular meeting. The four present members, however, gave authorization for the parade route to begin and go along the route proposed by the WTCEO.