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Agencies gather in Madras to coordinate solar eclipse plans


It takes a lot of planning for an event that only lasts two minutes and two seconds. On Monday, Aug. 21, the sun will take center stage in Madras with a total solar eclipse.

“I heard about it three years ago and brought it up to the city manager,” Madras Mayor Royce Embanks said Wednesday.

City council chambers were packed with representatives from a few dozen agencies Thursday, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service. They meet every month to coordinate and smooth out their plans for the upcoming eclipse and the expected large crowds.

Embanks said the city doesn’t have the resources to meet every need of the 45,000 to 70,000 visitors expected to flock to the city.

“At 20,000, we’re beyond our infrastructure capacity,” he said. “We don’t have the road system. We don’t have the number of grocery stores (and) hotels to accommodate everyone. So we’re just making a safety plan.”

Embanks and several agency leaders stressed safety is their main goal. Law enforcement officials are looking at ways to get extra help. Jefferson County Undersheriff Marc Heckathorn said outside agencies have made offers to pitch in.

“We don’t have any facilities to put them at this point,” he said. “Every hotel in Jefferson County has been reserved, every piece of land is reserved,” he said, “So we’re really going to be trying to look at who do we have here locally?”

Heckathorn said the department plans on pulling correctional staff from the jail to help.

Traffic also was a big item at the meeting.

“Traffic is going to be really, really bad a couple of days before the solar eclipse and a couple of days, really, after the event,” Heckathorn said. “We’re going to have an influx of people that we’ve never had to Jefferson County before, and especially to the city of Madras.”

ODOT is looking to route traffic where it will have the least impact, not necessarily the shortest way, and is working to identify the constantly growing mass viewing areas.

The interagency meetings will continue until the big day.

“I’ve had people stop me and say why did the city bring this all to Madras, and why’d you invite all these people?” Embanks said. “We didn’t invite them. It’s a celestial event. It’s happening. We don’t have any control of it.”

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