FORT KENT, Maine — If nothing else, officials in charge of security and safety during the 2014 World Acadian Congress are asking everyone attending events to be patient.
With about 50,000 people expected in the area over the course of the Acadian Congress from Aug. 8 to 24, people will need plenty of patience with projected increased traffic, longer waits at border crossings, additional patrons in local stores and road closures during key events.
“We have been working to get staffing and resources in the right places,” said Darren Woods, director of the Aroostook Emergency Management Agency.
Since March, Woods has strived to coordinate preparedness and response efforts among multiple first responders in two countries, including the Maine State Police, Aroostook County Sheriff’s Department, Maine Warden Service, National Weather Service, Royal Canadian Mounted Police and municipal police and ambulance departments from towns up and down the Maine-New Brunswick border.
“This has really required everyone to pull together,” Woods said. “We have worked out the basics — what agencies are involved and what resources can they offer.”
Area hospitals — Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, Cary Medical Center in Caribou and The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle — are prepared for any additional medical or emergency situations during the Congress, Jesse Belanger, deputy director of Aroostook Emergency Management Agency, said Tuesday.
“There have been some increases in staffing, especially at NMMC,” Belanger said, adding that hospital will staff first aid tents at venues during the two-week event.
Ambulance services outside the Acadian Congress area are prepared to offer mutual aid with extra staff as well, Belanger said.
Given that many of the events take place outside, Woods said he called in the National Weather Service to track any conditions that could create potential problems. The hope is that officials will be able to react and alert festival goers as quickly as possible.
Aroostook County Sheriff James Madore on Monday said he has put on 38 additional four-hour shifts for Aug. 7 through Aug. 25.
“It’s pretty much all hands on deck as far as we are concerned,” said Madore. “It’s safe to say they will be dedicated to the northern part of [Aroostook] County from Van Buren to Fort Kent.”
State police troopers will have an increased presence, too, according to Lt. John Cote of the Houlton barracks.
“We are posting additional units in that area to focus on the increased traffic, population and events,” he said Monday. “We will be assisting local law enforcement when needed.”
Cooperating among different agencies and departments in two countries has made a positive difference, Cote said.
“We are collectively working together as effectively as we can to not duplicate efforts,” he said. “We have been working well together, and that is the beauty of the environment up here, and it has really expanded to across the border.”
In Madawaska, host of the Congress’ flagship Acadia Day on Aug. 15, Sgt. Ross Dubois of the Madawaska Police Department said every effort is being made to move people through the area as efficiently as possible.
On that day, Main Street will close down from the intersection at 14th Avenue to the intersection with Legion Avenue until 4 p.m., when the closure will extend down to 3rd Avenue until the entire street reopens at 7 p.m., after the giant Tintamarre parade.
During the parade, residents and visitors will take to the street with pots, pans, bells, whistles and anything else they can find to make as much noise as possible in the traditional gathering of Acadians celebrating their shared heritage.
The International Bridge between Madawaska and Edmundston, New Brunswick, will be closed for part of Acadia Day to vehicular traffic, allowing the Tintamarre participants to walk across the structure.
According to Jean Marc Dufour, the Congress’ safety and health coordinator, it is his understanding that extra personnel will be added to both ports of entry to facilitate the anticipated number of drivers and pedestrians wanting to cross back and forth that day.
“The plan is to cross as many people as possible and easily as possible,” Dufour said. “Something like this has never been done before, and it was a lengthy process to organize, [but] it is amazing what we can do when we all pulled together.”
On Aug. 15, the bridge will be closed at noon to vehicular traffic leaving Canada to enter the United States, Dufour said. The lane coming from the U.S. into Canada will remain open until 2 p.m. to accommodate residents who attended the giant outdoor Mass that morning.
After 2 p.m., the driving lanes will close to all but emergency responsive vehicles, and pedestrians must use the sidewalks.
Shuttles will be standing by on both sides of the bridge to bring people to and from designated parking areas.
The bridge will reopen to all traffic at 2 a.m. Aug. 16.
“I would tell people to be ready and patient when they go to cross,” Dufour said. “Leave early, bring plenty of water and have your passports and anything you might need like medications or paperwork [because] you won’t be able to get back over the bridge in a hurry.”
Nothing, Woods said, is going to happen in a hurry with regards to moving around during the Acadian Congress, but he added that all agencies involved are doing their best to assure people can get from one place to the other as smoothly as possible.
“There is going to be a lot of traffic and there are a limited number of arteries to move them around,” Cote said. “In many cases, in many of these communities, this is the first time there will be this number of people, [and] there will be some learning curves. Just have some patience.”
For shuttle schedules and maps of road closings with detours, visit www.cma2014.com/en/services/logistique-et-transport.
For a full World Acadian Congress program and detailed information, visit www.cma2014.com/en/.