NOTL councillors says eclipse state of emergency kept people away

Local municipalities should not have been blocked from discussion of a decision to declare a state of emergency ahead of the recent total solar eclipse that brought thousands of people to Niagara, says Niagara-on-the-Lake Coun. Wendy Cheropita.

At Tuesday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting, Cheropita raised concerns about the declaration signed by Niagara Region chair Jim Bradley, saying the town should have been notified.

“We should always be consulted with anything that comes from the region,” said Cheropita, adding that the town and staff were well prepared and did a good job during the day. “I think our execution of it was very successful,” said Cheropita.

Interim chief administrative officer Bruce Zvaniga and fire chief Jay Plato both said they were not notified about the region’s plans to declare a state of emergency.

Cheropita said she had communicated with Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, who was projecting a million people to come to the area, about whether he was notified ahead of time about the declaration, and he was not.

She believes the region taking this step may have scared some people away. “It had a very negative impact on tourism and visitations,” said Cheropita.

Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, who is also a regional councillor, defended the decision and said a state of emergency was necessary, especially as it related to preparations for regional operations such as Niagara Regional Police and Niagara Emergency Medical Services. He said Cheropita was reacting in a “knee-jerk” fashion and that the day’s outcome shouldn’t be blamed on the declaration.

“I think the chair did the very best to make a decision to ensure that appropriate resources were available,” said Zalepa during Tuesday’s meeting.

Late in the day of April 8 the region issued a news release saying "Given the high levels of collaboration on all fronts, and heightened awareness among the public, the declaration has served its purpose and is no longer required to be in place."

“Under the Emergency Management and Civil Protections Act, the head of a municipal council may declare an emergency in order to protect the health and well-being of individuals as well as public infrastructure,” the news release added.

Despite the lower-than-anticipated number of visitors, the event attracted people from all over, the town announced following the eclipse.

"From soft road closures to increased traffic patrol and enhanced facility operations, the town was prepared to handle what was expected to be a rather large gathering," said Zvaniga in the news release.

Shortly after the declaration and before the April 8 total eclipse, The Canadian Constitution Foundation criticized the decision and called it “unlawful.”

When the state of emergency was called, Bradley said it was done “out of an abundance of caution.”

Declaring a state of emergency “strengthens the tools the region has at its disposal to safeguard the health and safety of residents and visitors and protect our critical infrastructure in any scenario that might arise,” said a news release from the region on March 28.

An email sent to Bradley’s office for comment on Thursday morning had not been returned by 5 p.m.

Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara-on-the-Lake Local