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Sheriff, festival officials will work together to resolve parade issues

by Tom Chillemi

Middlesex Sheriff David Bushey and the Oyster Festival Foundation are looking for ways to improve the Oyster Festival Parade.

During the 2013 parade, extra deputies were needed to control the crowd at the intersection of Virginia and Cross streets, explained Sheriff Bushey to the Urbanna Town Council at its meeting on Monday, December 16.

The parade, which by permit is supposed to last no more than an hour, went 17 minutes over that time limit. “We need to keep that in mind,” said Sheriff Bushey.

Sheriff Bushey explained that the situation was compounded by visitors who were walking up from waterfront activities and wanted to cross Cross Street and go west on Virginia Street into the main section of town. To do this, they would have to walk across the parade route.

Many people at the intersection were not interested in watching the parade.

Also, the parade route was incorrectly outlined in the Oyster Festival brochure, noted Sheriff Bushey.

The Oyster Festival Foundation reduced the number of units in this year’s parade, he noted.

Sheriff Bushey said there were gaps in the parade caused when the walking units lagged behind. Also, there was a parade announcer who interviewed units at the judging stand near the end of the route and that caused the parade backup.

“If we can resolve those issues, I think we will be fine for next year,” said Sheriff Bushey. “We have to monitor the parades because we don’t want lawsuits and we don’t want people to get hurt. You have good people in the [Oyster Festival] Foundation that have been working on this already.”

Sheriff Bushey said signs might be used to indicate the parade routes for Friday and Saturday.

There were some fire lanes blocked, but they were cleared up, said Sheriff Bushey, but more signs would be helpful.

The parade permit one-hour time limit is set by VDOT, said town administrator Holly Gailey.

The parade permit application is considered by the Sheriff, VDOT and the Virginia State Police. All three must approve the application in order for a parade to occur, said Sheriff Bushey.

One-hour limit
When asked why there is a time limit, Sheriff Bushey said studies show that after standing for 40 minutes people want to move somewhere. “What happens in parades is that after about 45 minutes they start jumping into the street. They’ll move around and start ignoring what the laws are. So the Commonwealth of Virginia sets a standard that the parades have to be one hour or less. That’s set by the state and it’s there to protect us.”

A few years ago, Saturday’s parade route was moved from the main section of Virginia Street to reduce the expense of installing temporary barricades, said Sheriff Bushey. The measure also avoided crowding people in small spaces behind barricades.

“You almost came close to needing the barricades at the corner [of Virginia and Cross streets] this year because people were pushing and shoving. I had to send an extra five deputies up there to control the crowd,” he said.

A photo showed that visitors coming from the waterfront became crowded as they approached Cross Street. “The bottom line is that if we get one person injured severely, it’s going to cost us dearly,” said Sheriff Bushey.

He noted there are limited routes to detour around the parade. “Basically, we have one way in and one way out.”

Deputies have had to pick up home-care nurses outside of town and bring them to their clients in town during the festival, he pointed out.

Parade loop
Council member Joe Heyman, who is chair of the Oyster Festival Foundation board, said Sheriff Bushey has been “very conscientious to police within the budget.”

He said the police budget had increased from $12,000 10 years ago to $40,000 in a very short time. “Sheriff Bushey has done a good job of getting a handle on that and actually bringing the cost back down.”

Heyman said that unlike a parade that runs in only one direction, the Oyster Festival Parade loops and returns to where it started. When people at the beginning of the parade route see the parade end, they tend to want to move and that causes bottlenecks. “If we had a one-way parade, then as soon as the parade is gone people can fold in. He (Sheriff Bushey) has the responsibility of holding the people that saw the very beginning of the parade. They have to watch it all over again before they can move. That’s a long time to hold a crowd.”

Heyman said there were less parade units than in previous years, and the Festival Foundation is looking into the reason for the gaps in the parade, which may have been caused by walking units being mixed with vehicles. “We need to keep the parade compact and keep it moving,” he said.

“The sheriff is treating it as something that we need to address and not something that we need to stop,” said Heyman. “We’re trying to make it friendly, comfortable and safe.”

In another Oyster Festival matter, Sheriff Bushey said the shuttles to the Rosegill parking area were a big help in clearing out the town at the end of the festival.

Heyman also said Sheriff Bushey has made the deputies “friendly . . . that’s the number one comment we’ve gotten.”

Heyman said the Oyster Festival Foundation had no complaints for the first time.

Sheriff Bushey said he only had seven alcohol-related arrests. Deputies did arrest a fugitive at the festival, who has been wanted for four to five years.

“I thought it was a great festival,” said Sheriff Bushey. “We had some issues but we are working on fixing them.”

posted 12.18.2013

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