Coordinated response planned for pandemic float down

CBSA Operations Chief Rob Long, RCMP Cst. Ian Smith, Coast Guard Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Getty and Sarnia Police Deputy Chief Owen Lockhart discuss plans for the 2020 Port Huron Float Down. August 14, 2020 Photo by Melanie Irwin

First responders are planning another coordinated effort to ensure people participating in the 43rd annual Port Huron Float Down Sunday are safe.

The unsanctioned event usually sees thousands of participants float on inner tubes and rafts down the St. Clair River.

The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Sarnia Police gathered on the waterfront for a media briefing Friday afternoon.

While the group unanimously condemns the event, especially with COVID-19 concerns this year, Sarnia Coast Guard Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Getty said those still choosing to participate are strongly encouraged to take several precautions.

Sarnia Coast Guard Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Getty. August 14, 2020 Photo by Melanie Irwin

Sarnia Coast Guard Deputy Superintendent Kathleen Getty. 

“With COVID and the reported weather, my concerns are that it’s just going to make an inherently dangerous event, even more complicated for the participants,” said Getty. “I encourage them to have PFD’s (life jackets), not just their flotation. If they’re flotation is air filled and looses air, they need to have another way of maintaining their ability to float. The water is cold and it’s supposed to rain, please ensure and understand that if you go in the water, you’ll be in the water for up to four to five hours while you float down to the destination.”

She said there are greater risks for those who’ve been sick, or have underlying health conditions, when it comes to trying to stay afloat and warm.

Getty recommends going with a buddy and not separating from them.

Participants are also asked to put their name and phone number on their flotation device, have a paddle, carry identification in waterproof bags and refrain from drinking alcohol.

“We can contact you and verify that an accident hasn’t occurred,” she said. “A floatie, floating randomly with nobody attached to it, is a concern for us.”

RCMP Cst. Ian Smith, based out of Windsor, said COVID-19 travel restrictions still apply when crossing the marine border into Canada for non-essential purposes.

RCMP Cst. Ian Smith August 14, 2020 Photo by Melanie Irwin

RCMP Cst. Ian Smith

“Our job is to make sure people are qualified to be in Canada, if they’re admissible or not, and right now, nobody from the United States will be admissible through the quarantine act,” said Smith.

He said any American that ends up on Canadian shores will be screened for COVID-19, have their information recorded for Lambton Public Health, be brought to a staging area and transported back to the United States.

Smith said fines up to $750,000, and/or imprisonment of up to 6 months, are possible if a participant was found to be using the event to access the county.

“If our investigation concludes that they’re trying to get into Canada illegally, then at that point we would determine what steps to take next,” he said.

Shipping traffic will be halted on the St. Clair River from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. from the Blue Water Bridge to Stag Island and the boat ramps at Sarnia Bay will be closed.

The float down begins at 1 p.m. August 16.