Still a success

Published 10:27 pm Friday, October 25, 2013

City officials demonstrated good sense in the actions they took to protect life and property during the rain-soaked Peanut Festival earlier this month. Beginning Thursday, when torrential rain fell across the airport site and lightning flashed with the frequency of a Morse code message, it was clear that Suffolk had the safety of fairgoers, volunteers and workers in mind, despite the temptation to just let everything go on as planned.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts talked this week about some of the actions he and other city officials took to protect the public and still provide a fun weekend of entertainment, and it was clear that he and others, including fair organizers, approached their decisions soberly and with an appropriate degree of compassion for those who would be hurt most by a complete shutdown of the event.

Much has been said about the Suffolk Ruritan Club, which was finally forced to suspend the traditional Shrimp Feast kickoff when police closed the entry gate to the festival grounds on Thursday, and the club has offered a ticket exchange for those who were unable to get their food before the event’s untimely end. But that day was just the beginning of a lot of extra hard work by fair organizers.

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Roberts said he had building codes officials and fire marshal’s office create two-person teams that stayed on site the entire weekend, looking for potential dangers such as electrical hazards, heating or cooking equipment moved under tents, water on top of tents and unsafe conditions due to wind.

Festival officials had extra hay brought onto the site, and volunteers got to work early Friday morning, spreading it around the wettest and muddiest areas of the festival, according to Executive Director Lisa Key, who said the thunderstorms made for a difficult year after initial forecasts showed fair weather for the duration of the event.

After Thursday’s early closure, officials thought they might have to close things down again on Sunday because of the forecast, but they held the decision until that morning and found they were able to move forward, even in the dreary conditions.

Although full financial information was not yet available early this week, Key said the event had earned enough to pay the bills for next year, but it’s clear that neither the event nor its participants brought in as much money as they had hoped.

Still, those who attended seemed to have a good time, and many of the vendors already have agreed to participate again next year. And best of all, thanks in part to the cool, clear heads of Roberts, Key and others involved in the decision-making process, a potentially dangerous situation turned out to be little worse than an aggravation.

In the end, that’s a great measure of success.