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They admit they don’t have all the answers but Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum and Williston Police Chief Dennis Strow are adamant they will take steps to make Saturday’s Crab-Fest safer for those participating in the event and for those who live in the area.
Tuesday night McCallum told the Williston City Council that his department will close CR 318 at 3 p.m. and only residents showing proper identification will be allowed to drive on the road to reach their homes.
The sheriff said last year the road was also closed, but between 5-6 p.m. and by then there was too much traffic on the road and pedestrians were put at risk.
McCallum pointed out that for the most part people living in that area, east of Williston, are familiar with the decades old festival but those who come from other areas–some as far away as New York–don’t know what to expect when they reach the throng of people lining the streets.
Strow told council that he is organizing paid parking at the city-owned Cornelius Williams Park, located off Hwy. 27. The park also butts against property on CR 318 and there is an easement from the park to the festival site that will allow for pedestrian traffic.
Strow said $10 will be charged per vehicle, with $2 going toward the group helping direct and park traffic and $8 going to the city.
The chief said Monday that he will have 13 sworn officers in place beginning at 2 p.m. Saturday.
These officers include police, reservists and auxiliary. Additionally, the police department will also have Rescue 1, one of its latest vehicle acquisitions in place in the event of any emergency.
Strow said that halfway through this budget year, his department is under budget and officers will be paid from that money.
"We will not jeopardize safety for our city and its residents over a few dollars," Strow said.
The chief added that the intent of his department is to secure the safety of the city's residents, as well as those who are participating in Crab-Fest.
With the proceeds from the parking, Strow told the council, any wear-and-tear to the park can be corrected and perhaps more enhancements can be made with any money that is left over.
There are still a lot of kinks to be worked out in the next few days, Strow said, but this is a beginning and each year can be improved based on what is learned from the previous year.
Councilman Charles Goodman supported the idea.
“We may not have all the answers,” Goodman said, “but we’re making an attempt to better public safety.”
About a dozen residents of the area where Crab-Fest takes place attended the meeting, and several spoke out in favor of the road closure and the off site parking.
Robert Wells said the Levy County Prevention Coalition had secured a grant for safe festival training. The coalition has taken what it learned, he said, and passed it on to Crab-Fest organizers in order to make the ever-growing festival safer for all involved.