Chronic overcrowding on weekends in Long Point took a menacing turn July 19 when a storm knocked a tree and power lines to the ground, blocking Erie Boulevard near the Long Point causeway.
The blockage lasted several hours. While in place, much of the resort community and Long Point Provincial Park were cut off from fire trucks, ambulances and police cruisers.
“This weakness of a single road has been debated for years with no resolve or acknowledgement by Norfolk County,” said John Henderson of Port Dover, a director of the Long Point Ratepayers’ Association.
“The `what-if’ scenario happened today and – thankfully – in a mild way.”
In recent years, Norfolk council has discussed the single access into Long Point in the context of delivering emergency services. The worst-case scenario is a powerful storm washing out the causeway, while inundating, trapping and possibly drowning cottagers.
Under this scenario, an evacuation or delivery of emergency services would have to be done by watercraft, with all the attendant delays and hazards that suggests.
Cottagers have complained about weekend congestion for several years. The situation was especially crowded last weekend, which was hot and muggy. Reports from the lakeside say traffic on the causeway was bumper-to-bumper by early afternoon Saturday. Traffic was just as bad Sunday when the storm arrived.
“Is it going to take a fatality for the overcrowding to end?” cottager Wendy Tutt said. “How will emergency vehicles answer a call in a timely manner if there is a traffic jam on Erie Boulevard?
“While emergencies cannot be predicted, these traffic jams can. They happen every weekend. The number of cars entering Long Point needs to be controlled at the top of the causeway. Now.
“Long Point is a confined area with only one way to get in and out. High-risk activities, overcrowding, a sizeable demographic of senior citizens, and traffic jams every weekend. What could go wrong?”
In a report, county fire chief Gord Stillwell acknowledged that “fire protection for the area was compromised in the traditional sense as we would not be able to move a fire apparatus beyond the fallen tree.
“We have dry chemical aerosol extinguishers that can be deployed to deal with a structure fire in a limited capacity. These are the same units we carry on all-terrain vehicles during every Friday the 13th event (in Port Dover).”
A paramedic stop-gap was also triggered. Stillwell said a “rapid access vehicle” from Delhi was stationed in Port Rowan in case paramedics needed to get on the other side of the blockage, which occurred in the area of 32 Erie Blvd.
Norfolk OPP were asked to redirect incoming traffic at the north end of the causeway. However, Stillwell said police were unable to respond immediately due to a backlog of calls. Instead, firefighters blocked the causeway with a fire truck until a cruiser arrived.
The blockage occurred around 1 p.m. and was cleared around 4:15 p.m. All things considered, Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele said the situation could have been much worse.
“I believe the response was excellent, given the circumstances,” he said in an email.