Sarnia-Lambton First Responders Condemn Float Down

Sarnia-Lambton First Responders gather to discuss risks of participating in the unsanctioned Port Huron Float Down. August 15, 2017 Photo by Melanie Irwin

Enforcement of this Sunday’s Port Huron Float Down will be unified and stern.

Officials from the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), Lambton OPP, Sarnia police, Sarnia Fire and Rescue Services and the Point Edward volunteer fire department gathered to discuss the unsanctioned event with local media Tuesday.

While the group unanimously condemns it, they agree that its primary role is to ensure people are safe.

CCG Search and Rescue Officer Jerry Thompson says there will be one international incident command system this year, run in partnership with the United States Coast Guard and other American agencies, to improve communications.

CCG Auxiliary Director Clive Worton Photo by Melanie Irwin

CCG Auxiliary Director Clive Worton

CCG Auxiliary Director Clive Worton says it’s imperative that participants wear a PFD (personal flotation device) or lifejacket.

“In 2014 a guy did drown in the water,” says Worton. “From what I understand, he was a well known good swimmer. It just shows what can happen. Probably every year we bring back to shore at least 50 people and probably half of those are in distress from hypothermia, heat stroke, treading water for too long or losing air in their floatation device and not being able to make it.”

He says the water is fast moving and cold with treacherous spots that have undercurrents and whirlpools.

“Once you mix alcohol into that equation it gets crazy,” says Worton.

Sarnia police Inspector Jeff Hodgson says they will be assisting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) who have the primary responsibility for those who illegally enter Canada.

“One of the things we want to emphasize is that floaters should bring some identification, passport or NEXUS card, to distinguish Canadians from Americans,” says Hodgson. “If Canadians drift ashore in Canada, obviously we have no issue and they’ll be sent on their way. If Americans drift ashore in Canada, we need to have some form of identification. They will be taken to a collection point near the command post bus at Ferry Dock Hill and the RCMP and CBSA will process them and will get them back to U.S. Customs and Immigration to be processed.”

Sarnia Police Inspector Jeff Hodgson Photo by Melanie irwin

Sarnia Police Inspector Jeff Hodgson

Hodgson says flotation devices and large coolers will not be returned with American floaters this year — something that was allowed in 2016 when strong winds forced hundreds of Americans to land in Sarnia.

“Last year we took 19 trips [stateside] in Sarnia Transit buses. We allowed people to bring back their coolers and flotation devices, we did not allow them to bring back the alcohol,” he says. “This year we can not accommodate that and we will not. Those items will be discarded and considered abandoned.”

Hodgson says they are aware that an anonymous group in Sarnia is planning a Canadian version of the float down — starting from the water treatment plant in Pt. Edward.

“We will have an enforcement presence there on Sunday and will be enforcing the liquor licence act as it relates to those who are in possession or consumption of alcohol,” he says.

The St. Clair River will be closed to all motor vessel traffic between noon and 8pm from just north of the Blue Water Bridge to Stag Island.

The U.S Coast Guard has also established a temporary regulation requiring minors under the age of 18 to wear life jackets during the event due to the high number of participants expected to travel the 12 km course.