Kite Festival Approval Sparks Public Safety Debate

Jan 31, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The Ship Bottom Borough Council last week approved this year’s kite festival, sponsored by the LBI Chamber of Commerce, pending a meeting with stakeholders to discuss logistics after traffic safety concerns were brought to light by Councilman Tom Tallon. Tallon, who chairs the public safety committee, said the concerns were that of Police Chief Paul Sharkey and not his.

“It’s a great event,” Tallon said, adding that in his discussions with Sharkey the chief noted he’d like to see the welcome tent, located at 11th Street, and the large balloon part of the festival move down the beach to an area with more parking. Last year’s festival saw the large kites on borough beaches between Eighth and Ninth streets so motorists coming onto the Island could see the kites against the blue skies overhead. “There’s no parking on the streets and gridlock traffic,” noted Tallon of that area.

Traffic was a factor despite the use of shuttle buses with pick-up locations at the boat ramp, the LBI Grade School and the Ethel A. Jacobsen School in Surf City, according to Tallon. He said not everyone uses the shuttle, and some people just want to be dropped off at the event.

Now in its fourth year, the festival was organized to bring giant inflatable kites and highlight the sport of kiting to the Island. Ship Bottom is the host community, and as the gateway community to the 18-mile Island, it sees all traffic coming on and off the Island.

Councilman Joe Valyo, chairman of public buildings and community affairs, said traffic control, the shuttles and not having enough of a police presence were some of the lessons learned from last year’s event, which was the largest in the event’s short history.

“People were blocked in at the circle,” he noted, saying the event seemed to “just take off. It was 10 times bigger” than the year before.

The event is held Columbus Day weekend, and makes the most of the shoulder season, the season between peak summer and the off-season. However, on Sunday, it coincides with the LBI 18-Mile Run, an annual event on Long Beach Island since 1972. That was the case last year, too.

“There was horrific traffic,” Tallon said, adding more than 500 cars were parked at the vacant gas station lot, the future home of the Arlington Beach Club, where 24 condos are currently being built. “There were no (traffic) lights (on), and people were trying to cross the Boulevard. They had to worry about the runners.”

Mayor William Huelsenbeck is worried moving the festival from its current location will be detrimental to the event as well as borough residents, saying keeping the event between Seventh and 11th streets has less of impact on residential areas and that the 11th Street beach can hold more people.

“If moving it that far (between 15th and 25th street) does something to it, it’s not worth it,” he said.

“I am not spouting what I think should happen,” Tallon said, “but what the chief wants.”

Borough Administrator Mark Pino suggested officials treat the kite festival in the same manner as the Christmas Parade, since it’s approaching the same level of popularity, only spread over a four-day weekend.

“Mark’s suggestion is a positive way to go,” Councilman Robert Butkus said, noting the county has resources to help with policing, and Kathleen Flanagan, chief financial officer, suggested asking other municipalities on the Island for law enforcement help since the event benefits the entire community.

Organizers are looking to shut down a street for pedestrian safety, an improvement to trash collection, which they recognize was their error last year, and portable restrooms to be made available.

Councilman Pete Rossi, who heads the public works committee, said trash collection changes would be made this year to ensure nothing is missed.

— Gina G. Scala











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