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Botched ‘Float Down’ cost Sarnia taxpayers $8,000

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Journal Staff

Rescuing some of the 1,500 U.S. residents who washed ashore illegally during Sunday’s botched Port Huron Float Down cost city taxpayers more than $8,000, city hall said.

Ten Sarnia Transit buses and drivers made 19 trips shipping wayward floaters back to the U.S., public works were forced to close streets, and Sarnia firefighters deployed trucks, crews and a marine vessel.

City staff also incurred overtime costs cleaning up garbage and removing floating debris.

The municipal bills don’t include the cost to provincial and federal agencies involved in the rescue.

People riding inflatable mats and rings began showing up around 4 p.m. between Centennial Park and Corunna after winds gusting to 40 km/hour blew them off course during the unsanctioned event.

Sarnia’s Jerry Baljeu was attending Artzscape by the Bay when Americans began appearing on inflatable rafts.

“A lot of them just dragged themselves onto our shore,” he said. “Some of these rafts were huge, and some of them were customized, with a bar and a barbecue and that sort of thing.”

Once all the participants had been pulled from the water and rounded up they were busses back to Port Huron by Sarnia Transit and turned over to U.S. Customs and Immigration.

Few of the partiers were wearing lifejackets or carrying documentation.

And though many of them appeared to be intoxicated, Sarnia Police reported only minor injuries.

“It got crazy out there, but it worked out,” the service said on its Facebook page.

The Float Down is a decades-old tradition and involves people floating about 10 kilometres down the St. Clair River from Port Huron to Marysville, Michigan.

It is unsanctioned, there is no registration, and no one is responsible for its operation.

Last year the Coast Guard assisted more than 100 people who got in trouble, and two years ago one person drowned.

Baljeu said the winds Sunday were gusty, and a sudden thunderstorm could have been disastrous.

“All these people came over her, unintentionally, and none of them had passports or money. So what do you do with them? Whoever came up with the idea of putting them on city busses was brilliant.”

Those involved in the rescue, transportation and cleanup on the Canadian side 0f the river included Sarnia Police, Sarnia Fire, Lambton EMS, the OPP, Canada Customs and Border Agency, RCMP, Canada Coast Guard, Sarnia Transit, Red Cross, and security and fire personnel from the Chemical Valley.

Numerous members of the public also pitched, and some gave chilled swimmers the shirts off their backs.

Dozens of U.S. rafters are helped ashore in Centennial Park after being blown ashore during Sunday's Port Huron Float Down. Photo courtesy, Jerry Baljeu
Dozens of U.S. rafters are helped ashore in Centennial Park after being blown ashore during Sunday’s Port Huron Float Down.
Photo courtesy, Jerry Baljeu

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