Sailfest: Police, emergency personnel gear up for New London festival
New London — With nearly 300,000 visitors expected for this weekend's Sailfest, city police and fire officials have been meeting since January, with a focus on how to keep traffic moving with fewer officers available.
Deputy Police Chief Peter Reichard said because of limited manpower, 30 fewer officers are available than in past years.
Outlying roads leading into the downtown will be unmanned, and digital signs will be used to direct traffic and point motorists to the highway and ferries.
The entire department — about 65 officers — will be working Saturday, the busiest day of the three-day festival.
The message from fire and police officials and festival organizers is: have fun, be diligent but, most important, be patient.
"We ask that people be patient and know that there is going to be traffic," said Reichard. "We are going to do our best to get you in and out as smoothly and safely as possible."
Reichard said Waterford and other municipal departments and state and federal law officers will also assist. Amtrak police will be on hand at Union Station and major railroad crossings.
Last week, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center all issued warnings about the possibility of terrorist attacks during the long Fourth of July weekend.
Reichard and New London Fire Chief Henry Kydd said they are working with the Connecticut Intelligence Center, which collects, analyzes and disseminates both criminal and terrorism-related intelligence to all law enforcement agencies in the state, regarding any potential risks during the festival weekend.
"There's nothing on the radar at this time, but we always have to be diligent," Reichard said.
As in previous years, Reichard said, coolers and large bags will not be allowed in the festival area.
Barbara Neff, founder of Neff Productions, which orchestrates Sailfest, said people can expect crowds, but there is something for everyone — great food, music and 250 vendors. Many events are free.
"Sailfest is a great place to make a memory," Neff said. "You will remember where you watched the fireworks. You will remember that you listened to great music. You will remember that you had a great time with the family."
Reichard said a unified command center will be located at the city fire headquarters. A police command van and a state emergency management vehicle will be stationed at the waterfront.
Reichard said the cost of the extra overtime coverage for the department is $50,000, of which the Sailfest organization paid $30,000. He said the department budgets for the additional overtime expense.
Kydd said his department has been working closely with police. Extra fire staff along with emergency medical service personnel on bikes will be on hand.
Kydd said the Coast Guard coordinated with multiple local law enforcement agencies and emergency services and fire departments to keep an enforcement presence on the river.
He added there will three first aid stations located throughout the city — at fire headquarters, at Union Station and at Fort Trumbull State Park.
"We will keep the citizens as safe as we can," said Kydd.
Starting at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, Reichard said some roads will be closed to help keep pedestrians safe from vehicle traffic. State and Bank streets will be closed. Ferry traffic will be directed from Eugene O'Neill Drive to Atlantic Street onto Water Street.
Masonic Street will be used for vendor loading and unloading. The left lane of Eugene O'Neill Drive at State Street will be closed. Handicapped parking will be available on Eugene O'Neill Drive.
Shore Line East will run special trains to the festival from New Haven. Parking will be available at the Shaw's Cove office park lawn, and at garages located on Water Street and Governor Winthrop Boulevard.
Immediately following Saturday's fireworks, Reichard said, the biggest police priority is directing traffic and ushering vehicles out of the city.
He also said that the city's amplified music ordinance, which prevents loud music being played after 1 a.m., will be strictly enforced at all downtown bars.
Reichard said Saturday night is the most active time for police and he wants to safely disperse crowds.
For up-to-date information on the festival go to www.sailfest.org.
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