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SH officials finalize worse-case-scenario plans as eclipse nears


August 15, 2017

The City of Sweet Home is finalizing plans to address the potential worst-case scenarios that could materialize on Monday, Aug. 21, the day of the solar eclipse.

“We’re going to put out a mailer that’s going to talk about the eclipse,” said City Manager Ray Towry.

As a worst-case scenario, city officials expect a lot of cars heading east from the coast because coastal skies have a 60-percent chance of being cloudy.

People paying $800 to $1,200 per night for hotel rooms will want to see the eclipse, and they’re going to head east, looking for clear skies, Towry said. It’s hard to say how far inland they will drive, but a single accident on Highway 20 east of Sweet Home could create a traffic jam that clogs up Main Street.

The scenario is far from certain.

The Department of Emergency Management is estimating 1 million additional people coming to Oregon, but that agency says the potential impact of the eclipse is hard to quantify, Towry said. Still, hotel rooms and campgrounds are full.

“Our goal is to be over-prepared,” Towry said. “Human behavior is hard to predict. It’s just a matter of being prepared.”

If the worst-case scenario does appear, Towry believes it’s really a chance for Sweet Home to showcase itself.

“Really, this is an opportunity for local businesses to show their wares and get people into the building,” he said. It’s in their own best interests to let people in, “and it goes along with showing off the attitude of the community. Take advantage of it.”

Whatever is going on Monday, “the key is going to need to be everybody needs to do it with a smile on their face,” he said. People need to keep their cool and be patient – be inviting.

Councilor Lisa Gourley echoed those comments during the regular City Council meeting held Aug. 8, noting that a good experience here during the eclipse could convince people to return to the area, with all the benefits that come from having visitors to the community.

Sweet Home businesses can put up signs showing they’re “eclipse-friendly,” offering bathrooms, which would be in demand under those circumstances, Towry said. The city was in discussions last week with the Sweet Home School District about opening bathrooms to the public that day.

“It’s a what-if; if we need to open up the restrooms, the fields and parking lots at the schools is that a possibility,” Towry said, adding that city staff planned to canvas the business community for eclipse-friendly businesses.

Some business restrooms aren’t really set up for use by the public, Towry said, but staff can still put up signs welcoming visitors to the community.

City staff will try to go out and mark eclipse-friendly businesses that will have restrooms available, he said.

If anyone has extra portable toilets that could be placed throughout the community, Towry said, the city would be happy to coordinate placement of them.

Additionally, at least three fire hydrants will be set up to provide water if necessary, he said.

The city also will post updates throughout the event, he said, with information as necessary, such as warnings to stay off Main Street if traffic is jammed.

City staff will walk up and down the streets, handing out maps and giving directions to viewing areas, he said.

“We’re all hands on deck that day,” Towry said. With a couple of possible exceptions for specific reasons, no one is on vacation Monday. “We’re going to start the day off in full incident command center.”


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