10/30/13 — NCDOT Rule change puts local parades in jeopardy

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NCDOT Rule change puts local parades in jeopardy

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 30, 2013 1:46 PM

The Eureka and Parkstown Christmas parades have been canceled because of a change in state policy regulating road closures and a new requirement of hefty liability insurance coverage.

The historic Cherry/O'Berry parade was canceled in September because of the changes.

However, the county's other parades are expected to go off as planned, beginning Saturday, Nov. 23, at 3 p.m. with the Seven Springs parade.

State Department of Transportation officials said they do not want to be responsible for causing events to be canceled, but that event organizers were notified of the changes in early May.

The DOT now requires proof of a minimum $1 million per injury liability insurance policy and a 90-day advance notice. It also requires that the parades be supported or endorsed by the local governing body or bodies.

Jimmy Wise, one of the Eureka parade organizers, said he was surprised when he received the three-page state special event request form.

"As far as right now, we are going to cancel, and I feel we have one of the best parades in the county," Wise said. "Neither the mayor (Doug Booth) or myself feels comfortable signing that (state) paperwork.

The Eureka parade had been scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 8.

Eureka has been able to secure insurance in the past, Wise said.

"We have always taken out an event policy to cover us for the day or 24 hours to protect the town," Wise said. "We also always wrote (the state), asking permission to shut the town down from about 3 to 5 o'clock."

Permission has always been granted, he said.

While the insurance provision is a concern, what worried Wise and Booth the most is the way the liability waiver is worded.

Wise said he is specifically concerned about the wording in which organizers agree to make restitution "for any and all claims for personal injury or property damage which may be asserted against" the DOT.

"We feel like if we sign it, and a claim comes back on us the insurance company won't pay because, 'You signed to take care of it,'" Wise said. "Should the insurance come back and say that, then we would have to hire a lawyer."

Wise said neither he nor the town have the financial resources to handle those potential costs.

In the past, the committee running the Parkstown parade has been able to obtain up to $250,000 in liability insurance by going through third parties, resident Andrew Jackson said.

The Parkstown group had asked for a a waiver on the 90-day requirement, but simply ran out of time, Jackson said.

"We did not realize the new regulations until late in the game," Jackson said. "We decided over the weekend to cancel this year and have a fall festival starting that Thursday through Sunday (Dec. 12-15). We will still have the fireworks, but not the parade.

"The big thing was the insurance. It really came down to that and the time requirement. We just came to a wall and didn't think we could get it done."

The committee is still working to finalize the times and location for the festival, he added.

The new rules went into effect May 1 after traffic engineers from each of the state's 14 DOT divisions met and decided it was time to standardize the way that they issue permits for parades or other events that involve state roads, DOT communications officer Jennifer Garifo said. At issue was the fact that some towns would make the request months in advance while others would do so just days prior to the event.

"(DOT officials) needed time to go through all of those requests and make sure everything was set up and was good," she said. "That is where this form came into play. What they decided to do was come up with the 90-day time frame and that they would need the proof of the liability insurance."

Notices were sent to those who had applied for parade permits in the past.

The idea was not to end parades in the state, Ms. Garifo said.

"We don't want to cause events to have to cancel. We want to work with the communities and the towns," she said.

Some events did fall inside the 90-day window, said Todd Lewis, assistant traffic engineer for Division 4, which includes Wayne County.

"We would not deny a request simply because of the 90-day turnaround issue. However, the 90-day window is there so that we can review and discuss alternative routes in the event that a road closure would not be accepted," he said.

Lewis said he did not know of any other cancellations than the three in Wayne County.

What happened in Parkstown is that the person responsible for the paperwork lost the original form and had to contact DOT for a new one, delaying the process, Lewis said.

Most events like this involve the same road closure requests year after year and do not pose a problem for review and approval, he added.

"However, when a route is changed from previous years or when a new request is made, it could take more time to turn the request around," Lewis said.

The insurance had not been required in Division 4 in the past. Ms. Garifo said she was not sure if it had been required in other divisions.

"To our knowledge there had not been any (liability) incidents in the past, but we didn't want to wait until there is an incident," she said. "We want to be proactive and that everything is done right, that measures are being meet."

Lewis said it was his understanding that the state Attorney General's office added the liability part to the form.

Lewis said he knew of smaller groups, and even some individuals, who had obtained the liability insurance without any problem