Autumn Lights festival fate still undecided

Township officials continue to discuss whether planned bridge closure will create safety issue for popular event

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  • File photo Thousands of people attend West Milford's Autumn Lights Festival every year.

  • The Marshall Hill Road bridge will be closed for reconstruction for several months.


It is still undecided if the annual Autumn Lights (ALF) festival will be held this year or cancelled until 2019, when reconstruction of Marshall Hill Road bridge is finished and the road is reopened. Both West Milford Police Chief Tim Storbeck and ALF Chairman Rocky Hazelman say the event should not be held this year. Township of West Milford Council members feel differently.

“It is not my recommendation (to have ALF this year),” Storbeck said. “It is not the smart thing or the safe thing to do.”

Councilman Luciano (Lou) Signorino disagrees with the police chief and believes road detour signs and help from Passaic County police can enable the event to take place along Union Valley Road as usual. He believes the festival is too important to residents, visitors and vendors to be cancelled.

Signorino reported that he experiences frequent road closures as he drives through heavily populated Bergen County¬ and that drivers following detour signs doesn’t create a problem with traffic flow. Using detours via secondary roads during the ALF festival, he sees having the festival on Union Valley Road being doable.

“There are things we can do,” Signorino said. “Maybe a shuttle (to the festival) from the PAL (parking area). Whatever we can do to make it (the festival) happen we should do. With help from the county, we could have the resources we need. There are options.”

Discussion tabledAfter the April 1 council meeting discussion, Council President Tim Wagner’s motion to table the subject of approval for this year’s fair — while other options for having it are explored — was unanimously voted for passage by the council. He agrees with Signorino that having the fair this year is still possible.

John Voli begins his job as West Milford Director of Community Services and Recreation on April 16. Wagner said Voli, who has been recreation director in Secaucus for 18 years, is experienced and will be able to plan and move the festival plans forward.

Aware of Hazelman and his committee’s preference to cancel the event for this year and bring it back in 2019 with improved and new features, Wagner said he hopes they will go ahead with planning for this year’s festival. If not, the council president said he hopes other people will step up and take over to do so.

“God forbid that something bad happens,” Councilman Michael Hensley said. “Some crazy things do happen. I respect the police chief and festival chairman’s recommendation. We should look at some different options for this year’s festival.”

Storbeck and Hazelman told the council that having made their concerns known with their recommendation to cancel the event this year, if directed by the council to do so, they will proceed as directed and prepare for the festival to be held.

Road closure effectsDuring the discussion, Storbeck questioned where the Union Valley Road traffic would go, with vehicles unable to pass the closed section of Marshall Hill Road where the bridge is undergoing repairs. He said a 2013 survey shows 915 vehicles (traveling both ways) at noon on Union Valley Road.

The chief noted that ShopRite and other stores in the shopping center at the intersection of Union Valley and Marshall Hill Roads will still be open for business and necessary traffic to get there must be allowed. With closure of Union Valley Road, a main traffic artery, he questioned where the traffic would go.

Storbeck said it would be necessary to station two police officers at the traffic light and speak with every driver approaching that point to question if they were going to the shopping center, in which case they would have to be allowed to proceed. The rest of the drivers would be redirected by detours to other roads.

Concerns were also voiced about getting ambulances and fire trucks and their crews through the crowded streets in response to emergency situations.

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