Parking, traffic and even eye safety are atop Houlton’s eclipse planning list

5 months ago

HOULTON, Maine — When the moon moves off the surface of the sun, there will be a bright purple flash. 

Without proper eye protection during the total solar eclipse coming on April 8, that may be the last thing you ever see, astrophysicist Mark Horvath said during a Thursday public forum, stressing the importance of welder’s glasses or mylar shades — not sunglasses.

“It’s actually happened to people at every eclipse,” Horvath said. “There are people who go blind because they forget about their glasses. Please don’t do that.”

With only two months remaining until the eclipse on April 8 passes right over Houlton, town leaders are scrambling to put all the pieces in place for an influx of 40,000 visitors coming because it will be the last place in the U.S. to view the historic event. 

At the same time, officials want to inform local residents and business owners about events, changes in on-street parking, altered traffic patterns, local business opportunities and safety. 

But Horvath’s eye safety comments got the attention of roughly 60 residents and business owners attending the forum at Houlton High School. Several attendees suggested organizers find a way to remind viewers at designated star parks about keeping glasses on. 

Town officials agreed and will look into options. Eclipse organizer Johanna Johnston said along with a donation of eclipse viewing glasses donated to area school children, they have offered safety talks to all school principals. 

Planners have also been working closely with New Brunswick eclipse planners to provide streamed viewing on screens in Houlton for those who do not feel safe viewing it directly.

“They have a weather balloon that’s going to be launched up above the clouds to broadcast the eclipse,” she said. 

Houlton Police Chief Tim DeLuca said that even 10,000 visitors will overwhelm the community. Staffing is a looming issue for the police department, he said, predicting that it will be hard to draw staffing from other Maine agencies as well as the federal Border Patrol.

“They are all tasked with similar responsibilities and challenges that same day and same hour,” he said. 

Parking will be at a premium and the Houlton department will not be able to control parking throughout town. People will be parked on the side streets and probably in no-parking zones, DeLuca said. His goal will be to maintain access for emergency vehicles. 

Several churches are offering parking in their lots and the town has already developed a shuttle route with area school buses to cut down on parking problems. There will be no parking on both sides of Pleasant Street to allow traffic into all areas of town.

To avoid traffic bottlenecks and chokepoints, police are currently looking at making a one-way passage out of town from Military Street, starting at Court Street and going all the way to the airport. 

DeLuca said as more traffic and parking plans evolve, they will be posted on the police department’s Facebook page. Additionally, they are sending out a call next week for volunteers to assist the police department with traffic control, he said.