C-K staff plan for influx during April 8 eclipse event

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Chatham-Kent Public Library employee Sandy Moon helps colleague Michelle Sims try on a pair of glasses designed to safeguard eyes during the total solar eclipse taking place in Chatham-Kent April 8. The library is distributing one pair of glasses per family to residents as supplies last. Officials are warning the public to take preventive measures if looking directly at the eclipse as it can severely damage eyesight.

By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse will cast Chatham-Kent in total darkness April 8 and officials want to make sure the municipality is ready.

South Kent Coun. Trevor Thompson, a self-proclaimed eclipse aficionado, raised the issue at the March 25 council meeting, saying C-K needs to prepare for the “deluge” of people expected to travel to C-K to view the phenomena.

The total eclipse, occurring only once every 360 years, will begin around 2 p.m., Thompson said, with totality expected around 3:15 p.m. He described the culmination of shadows, birds roosting and the sight of the coronas around the sun as “life changing.”

Thompson told council he went to Kentucky in 2017 to view an eclipse, noting it was an “awe-inspiring” experience and he has plans to travel out west in a few years to view eclipses there.

“To see a total eclipse, it’s something that not a lot of people get to see and we are going to have the opportunity to see one here,” Thompson said, noting C-K will get about two-and-a-half minutes of total darkness near Lake Erie, stressing that every lakeside community “is going to be busy.

Thompson said the number of vehicles at the Kentucky event amounted to an “eight hour” traffic jam.

“It was like nothing I’d ever experienced,” he said, adding that he’s spoken with C-K residents and businesses along the lake, and people expected to arrive from all over Canada and the U.S. to see the eclipse.

The Erie-O Motel and Marina is one of the spots where the eclipse can be viewed. Owner Paul Renaud said all 10 rooms are booked and he has 100 pairs of specialized glasses on hand to distribute to those who gather.

“We are offering a viewing location,” Renaud told The Chathan Voice, adding folks can bring their lawn chairs. “We very excited about it. We have a place here where we can share the experience with others.”

Thompson said he was curious how municipal staff planned to manage the event.

Chatham-Kent Fire & Rescue Chief Chris Case said emergency services held an eclipse planning meeting recently, adding that Chatham-Kent police have developed a traffic management plan and all municipal fire stations will be staffed as well.

Fire & Rescue will also be putting a boat in at Lake Erie as well as at Mitchell’s Bay, Case explained, “because we’re quite concerned people will take to the water.”

An EMS command centre will be set up at the Erieau firehall too, the chief said.

“Aside from that, we are not seeing any huge events that are being planned,” he added. “Most of the provincial planning is looking towards the Niagara region, which is expecting well in excess of a million people.”

The former U.K. resident said he experienced an eclipse there in 1999, agreeing with Thompson that it’s “quite the spectacle. We expect quite a lot of people to show up.”

Administration is also exploring the possibility of having park washrooms open the day of the eclipse.

According to chief administrative officer Michael Duben, a committee has been working on the issue for the past year.
“We have been talking about this for some time and I’m confident we have it under control,” Duben said. “We understand it’s going to be a big deal for the region and we’re working on it.”

In his comments, Mayor Darrin Canniff stressed the issue of eye safety, as eyes can be severely damaged if the eclipse is viewed without proper eyewear.

The Chatham-Kent Public Library has some specialized viewing glasses available to lend, and glasses can also be purchased online.

“Make sure you have them – you need them,” Thompson said. “Safety first.”

Chatham-Kent–Visit CK has devoted a special webpage outlining safety tips.

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