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How Grand Haven prepares for the festival

Alex Doty • Jul 26, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Before all of the Coast Guard dignitaries and visitors pay a visit to Grand Haven, plenty of work takes place behind the scenes to make sure the city is in ship-shape condition for its big week.

“It’s an extremely busy time for us,” Grand Haven Public Works Director Derek Gajdos said. “It’s one time when no DPW personnel can have time off.”

Gajdos said his department is responsible for a lot during the week before and during the festival — from placing signs for traffic control, setting up water and sewer connections for festival vendors, and aiding the festival with other needs they may have.

“Our guys put in 60 hours per week, on average, this week and next week,” he said.

Gajdos said some of the largest tasks involve the placement of signs for traffic control orders regarding street closures. He said the number ranges from as few as 12 to as many as 280 for large events like the Grand Parade.

And while the festival takes up a lot of work hours, Gajdos noted that they also continue with their routine public works duties. The exceptions, he said, are projects that might impede the flow of traffic on streets and sidewalks.

Other city departments are just as busy.

“I think what a lot of people don’t realize is all of the planning that goes on in the months and weeks before everything,” said Grand Haven Community Affairs Manager Char Seise.

The planning ranges from coordinating events between the city and festival officials, and getting approvals from various city departments for festival events.

Throughout the upcoming week, Seise said the city and festival staff will communicate with each other about what’s taking place on a particular day, and later go over what worked and what could be improved.

“Every morning, we meet at the Coast Guard Festival office and do a debriefing,” she said.

All of this time spent planning ahead and coordinating throughout the week means the festival can run without a hiccup.

“I can’t think of a time when we’ve had any incident during the events,” Seise said. “It just goes to show how well orchestrated everything is.”

Seise noted that the planning involved in the festival goes well beyond the weeks before and during the event.

“We start planning next year’s events almost immediately after this year’s Coast Guard celebration is complete,” she said. “We usually try and do it by the first of September.”

Harbor Transit Director Tiffany Bowman said her organization does a lot in advance of the annual festival.

“The preparation that goes into it is huge,” she said. “We started a month ago.”

In addition to offering coverage for its normal ridership, the transit provider also ups its coverage for the influx of additional people during the week and for the shuttle runs for park-and-ride services on the final weekend of the festival.

“It’s pretty much all-hands-on-deck all week,” Bowman said, adding that they provide food for all the drivers during the week since it is so busy.

According to Bowman, Harbor Transit provided rides for 6,999 people using the park-and-ride service on the 2017 festival’s second Saturday.

With 26 buses expected to run park-and-ride services in the Tri-Cities that day, Bowman said there is plenty of training that takes place for Harbor Transit drivers.

“We do training with all of our drivers on these routes and how to drive safely in that much traffic,” she said.

Those who rely on Harbor Transit are asked to be patient during the busier period next week.

“We just ask for everyone’s patience and to call ahead to schedule trips,” Bowman said.

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