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Red (Tape), White and Blue: Lack of Safety Signs Stymies Parade



Sunday, July 05, 2015
Haverhill — What was supposed to be an interstate holiday parade spanning the Connecticut River on Saturday was instead derailed at the last minute due to an apparent paperwork snafu, leaving some parade spectators without a spectacle.

By the time the decision was made, people were lined up along the planned route in Wells River, many of them sitting in lawn chairs, waving miniature flags and holding children on their knees in anticipation of a parade that never arrived.

Since 1981, the annual Woodsville-Wells River Fourth of July parade has begun in Woodsville, crossed the bridge on Route 302 and ended in Wells River, a village of in Newbury, Vt.

This year, at 10:15 Saturday morning, about 45 minutes before the parade was scheduled to begin, Newbury Constable Glen Godfrey noticed that detour signs directing traffic around the parade’s route were not in place on the Vermont side.

“You’re supposed to have the right signs out on the road,” Godfrey said. “They just did not have the signs up. By law, I cannot let them have the parade without the signs.”

Godfrey said he notified the Orange County Sheriff’s Department of the deficiency, and that members of the sheriff’s department made the call to prohibit the parade from entering into Vermont.

Godfrey said the signs are important because they let motorists know to avoid the area. If the area isn’t properly posted, he said, it can increase the chances of an accident .

Godfrey said he helped to inform would-be spectators of a last-minute rerouting of the parade that kept it in Woodsville, leaving them to decide whether to skip the event altogether, or scramble across the river to watch.

Gary Scruton, a member and former president of the event’s organizing committee, said that an ice cream shop in Wells River was among the businesses affected.

“They were doing hamburgers and hot dogs today because they knew it was going to be a big crowd. And it wasn’t,” he said.

The rerouting of the parade also took it away from the reviewing stand, which caused a last-minute repositioning of float judges, the parade announcer and the singer of the National Anthem.

The reason behind the absence of detour signage was not immediately clear in the aftermath of the parade, with Godfrey, the parade’s organizers and sheriffs all referring questions to each other and to the state.

Godfrey said he was bound by law to call attention to the lack of warning signs for motorists.

“Me and the sheriffs, today, it’s all our fault,” Godfrey said. “But it’s not our fault if the sign’s not up.”

The person who answered the phone at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said no one from the department was available to answer questions about the issue, and referred all questions to municipal officials.

Scruton said that in past years, the parade has gone on without any Vermont permit, and that the committee was effectively punished by trying to be more responsible.

“This year, we got the permit and we can’t do the parade,” he said.

Scruton said the parade ought to have been allowed to move forward.

“It’s too bad that somebody felt that there was a ‘t’ not crossed or an ‘i’ not dotted and didn’t allow the parade in,” he said.

Bradford, Vt., resident Paul Hunt, a volunteer for the parade, said his understanding was that the committee had received the permit and that the Agency of Transportation had erred by failing to put the signs up.

“I think it’s outrageous …,” he said. “The Agency of Transportation has to be called to task for this. They made the committee jump through hoops and then they didn’t do their part.”

Erik Filkorn, spokesman for the Agency of Transportation, said Saturday afternoon that he couldn’t immediately reach agency officials who were likely to have specific knowledge of the situation, but that he is investigating.

“We do a lot of these and usually they work,” he said. “We will look into it.”

Filkorn said that, as someone who attends parades with his own family every year, he appreciates the angst that the problem caused.

“I understand how important parades and other events like this are to communities, and we’re sorry this happened,” he said.

Hunt said Haverhill police were helpful in rerouting the parade.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.