The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

Local law agencies plan for eclipse

SCOTT TRUXELL/independent editor

The consensus is a sizable number of people will travel into and through Van Wert County to witness and experience the rare April 8 solar eclipse. Just how many people will be here remains to be seen. The Ohio Emergency Management Agency is predicting Van Wert County’s population could double.

“Our population in Van Wert County is about 29,000, so the state is predicting about 58,000 people will be here,” Van Wert County EMA Director Rick McCoy said during an eclipse planning meeting. “They’ve seen from past events that a lot of people do come early – they come in and they want to spend the weekend and they want to find things to do.”

Van Wert County will be in the path of totality for the April 8 solar eclipse, making it a popular viewing spot. The county’s top three law enforcement agencies have formulated plans to handle a predicted large influx of people. Ohio EMA map

The primary concern seems to be traffic, especially after the eclipse is over. The VW independent contacted Van Wert County’s top three law enforcement officials – Sheriff Tom Riggenbach, Van Wert Police Chief Doug Weigle and Lt. Joe Cisco, Commander of the Van Wert Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which also covers Paulding County. The three were asked about their respective plans for law enforcement before, during and after the event. All three said their agencies will have a full compliment of personnel ready to go.

“The Sheriff’s Office will have extra personnel working in the days leading up to and on eclipse day,” Sheriff Riggenbach said. “We feel we are prepared to address the potential increase in people that Van Wert County could see.”

“The Post has adjusted scheduling and restricted leave use from April 6-9,” Lt. Sisco said. “We anticipate an increase in traffic either coming to the Post area to view the eclipse or traveling through the area to reach their intended destination to view the eclipse. This also includes motorists returning to their home areas following the event. The adjustment is personnel will allow for us to provide timely traffic safety services to all motorists traveling in Van Wert and Paulding County.”

“From 7 a.m. Saturday, April 6, through 11 p.m. Monday, April 8, we have assigned all officers and dispatchers on 12 hour shifts,” Chief Weigle said. “We will have at minimum of eight officers on the road at all times. Two officers will be assigned to each sector. Washington St. and Main St. will determine the sector. Some officers will be assigned to foot patrol during events. Once the eclipse is over, we will be watching traffic. We would like to get everyone out safely and efficiently.”

Weigle noted the state has allocated $1 million for first responder overtime costs for traffic control and security during the eclipse. However, that $1 million is for all 88 counties, meaning there’s no guarantee any of that money will come to Van Wert County.

All three were asked if certain types of calls would be given priority over others.

“As of right now I have five dispatchers working each shift also to handle 911 and other incoming calls and complaints,” Chief Weigle said. “Dispatchers regularly prioritize calls on a daily basis and will use the same guidelines. From April 5-10 we will not be enforcing parking in the grass on private property. Calls of priority would be crimes in progress and violence.”

“The Sheriff’s Office is often faced with prioritizing calls for service,” Sheriff Riggenbach stated. “We will operate as we usually do during the eclipse. Lower priority calls for service may have longer response times what our citizens are used to. There are many things that can cause this to happen under normal circumstances in our operation. As always, we will do our best to respond to all calls for service in a timely manner.”

“There will be no adjustments in how we prioritize calls,” Lt. Sisco said. “With our staffing adjustments we will have more troopers available to handle the increase in calls created from the event.”

Sheriff Tom Riggenbach, Chief Doug Weigle and Lt. Joseph Sisco.

Riggenbach, Weigle and Sisco were each asked from a law enforcement standpoint, what the biggest challenge may be before, during and after the eclipse.

“From my perspective the biggest challenge is going to come immediately following the eclipse,” Lt. Sisco said. “It is anticipated that most travelers will begin to leave the area and return home at this time. This will increase traffic volumes, especially along the U.S. and state toutes in Van Wert and Paulding counties.”

“Today the biggest challenge for eclipse day is the unknown,” Sheriff Riggenbach said. “This includes the unknown of how many people will ultimately come to Van Wert and what the weather will be. While the eclipse day has a lot of unknowns for everyone, unknowns are what we encounter everyday as a Sheriff’s Office. We are used to trying to plan for as much as we can for something with unknowns. While this event is on a much larger scale than what we have prepared for in the past, I am confident in the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office and their ability to work through the challenges that will come on eclipse day.”

“I would assume traffic issues and persons not having patience for other people,” Weigle said of the potential biggest challenge.

The three were also asked if they had any suggestions for local residents if there is a large influx of people as expected.

“If homeowners can park in their driveways, please do,” Chief Weigle. “This will help out on opening up the roadways. Plus, with persons from out of town, you never know who may hit your car and leave. Keep your houses and vehicles locked. Prepare yourself to have patience and respect for others. I am sure there will be road rage incidents.”

“Follow the guidance provided by our local EMA directors,” Lt. Sisco said. “Both Van Wert County EMA Director Rick McCoy and Paulding County EMA Director Ed Bohn have done an excellent job in planning for the event and continue to provide guidance and event updates to local residence on how to prepare for the eclipse and what to expect.”

“I encourage our community to be patient with the influx of traffic and people,” Sheriff Riggenbach said. “They should anticipate it will take longer to get to where they are traveling, busier businesses, longer wait times in line, etc. Rick McCoy with Van Wert EMA has provided some good information for our residents leading up to Eclipse day. I would encourage people to review that information and consider following things that apply to their situation.

Next Monday’s eclipse will travel across Ohio from southwest to northeast beginning around 1:54 p.m. in Van Wert County and ending around 4:27 p.m. Totality will begin in Van Wert County around 3:08 p.m. and will last approximately four minutes. 35 Ohio counties, including Van Wert County, will have the entirety of their county within the area of totality. It will be first total solar eclipse in Ohio since 1806 and the last in the Buckeye State until 2444.

POSTED: 03/31/24 at 9:07 pm. FILED UNDER: News