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Alpena County OKs float display over objections

News photo by Steve Schulwitz The Alpena County Fairgrounds, seen here on Wednesday, will host a drive-through parade next month at which people can drive by decorated floats. The county Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 Tuesday to allow the event, despite objections from local law enforcement and health officials.

ALPENA — The Alpena County board on Tuesday approved a drive-thru Christmas display despite traffic concerns from local police agencies and health concerns from regional public health officials trying to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Alpena County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 to host the event either Dec. 11 or 18 at the county fairgrounds, where floats will be parked throughout the facility and people can drive through to view them.

The item was not on the meeting agenda released before the meeting but was added to the agenda early in the meeting.

The event was scheduled after the cancellation of the traditional Bolenz Jewelry Holiday Parade through downtown Alpena was canceled amid a resurging coronavirus. Local health departments say 649 Northeast Michiganders have been infected since the start of November, compared to 305 in the six months before that.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration recently imposed new restrictions on bars, restaurants, indoor gatherings, and high schools and colleges in a bid to slow the spread.

Commissioner John Kozlowski supported the event because he believes people have sacrificed so much since the start of the pandemic in March. He said he believes steps can be taken to protect the people setting up the floats outdoors and that a majority of those who attend will be from single families who reside with one another already.

“I’m well aware of everything that is going on around us, but everyone has lost a great deal of their normalcy, and, if this one little thing can brighten people’s spirits I’m all for it,” Kozlowski said. “I think people will do the right thing and protect themselves and confident the plans can be made to have this run safely and smoothly.”

Sheriff Steve Kieliszewski opposes the event.

During his time in law enforcement, he has seen many large events at the fairgrounds and, each time, traffic backed up from the fairground entrance to as far as Ripley Boulevard, Chisholm Street and down the side streets to 9th Avenue. He said having vehicles lined up bumper to bumper while being distracted by looking at holiday floats significantly increases the likelihood of fender benders.

Kieliszewski said the event is scheduled from 3 to 9 p.m. That long window might lessen traffic congestion.

Still, he said, he believes most people will arrive after work, when it is dark, to get the full effect of the Christmas lights on the floats. He said there are no plans to have candy handed out, which would help create a more normal and safe flow of traffic, but, if people do anyway, things will tighten up fast.

“I hope this works out, I really do,” the sheriff said. “But, if it doesn’t, they are going to have a really big mess.”

Commissioner Bob Adrian, who also chairs the District Health Department No. 4 board, voted against the event. He said the sudden surge of coronavirus cases locally has made it important for people not to gather with one another. He said there will be a lot of people who will be working in close proximity with one another putting the floats together.

“It is human nature to want to talk to one another, shake hands, and hug, especially during the holiday season,” Adrian said. “There are restrictions in place now to limit gatherings and we are seeing cases really take off. We need to do our best to control the spread, because it will likely be until spring before the vaccine is widely available here.”

Adrain said the Health Department probably could shut down the event with an emergency order, but he doesn’t think it would because a majority of the people will be outside, where the threat is lower.

“That still doesn’t mean it can’t spread though,” he said.

Kozlowski and Commissioners Brenda Fournier, Marty Thomson, and Kevin Osbourne voted to allow the event, while Adrian and Commissioners Dave Karschnick and Brad McRoberts voted no. Commissioner Bill Peterson was absent.

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