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Meeting highlights potential eclipse effects on community

August 30, 2023 - 00:00
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October eclipse expected to draw 60,000 visitors

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    Bandera County Commissioner Jack Mosely speaks to a crowded room about the upcoming eclipses and their estimated impact on the county.

Over 100 people crowded into the community room at Mansfield Park Aug. 17 to hear what community leaders had to say about the upcoming eclipses in October and April.

Vanderpool was identified as the epicenter of the eclipse.

In attendance were County Judge Richard Evans, Mayor Rebecca Gibson, Marshal Nancy DeFoster, City Councilwoman Lynn Palmer, Chamber President Jaki Perkins, Bandera County Emergency Management Director Judy Lefevers, County Commissioner Jack Moseley and Bandera Business Association’s Arlene Guerra.

Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Patricia Moore moderated the meeting and advised the group that 40 to 60 thousand people visitors were expected to come to the Hill Country to view each eclipse – a crowd number that the Super Bowl draws.

Moore noted that Bandera had only one full-service grocery store, only four EV charging stations, and 11 gas stations.

While the eclipse is expected to last only 3-4 hours, she said that the extra people coming to view it would put an extreme amount of stress on community resources.

Dr. Thomas Goldstein, a local optometrist, was called on to speak about solar retinopathy, which is blindness associated with looking directly at the sun.

He related that a person with solar retinopathy could experience blindness for 3–4 months or permanently.

Moore spoke about the availability of solar viewing glasses and the need for all residents to take advantage of the supply purchased by the CVB.

The group also discussed using welding helmets to view the eclipse. Goldstein recommended the glasses be used as not all helmets were strong enough to protect the eyes. Bandera Mayor Rebecca Gibson emphasized the city and county leadership had been attending planning meetings for the eclipse for the past two years.

She said that attendance was important because they were able to listen to what other communities had done to prepare for the eclipse.

Marshal Nancy DeFoster spoke about the preparations being made by the city law enforcement and the volunteer cadre she has recruited.

All officials present agreed that these eclipses would bring an economic boon to Bandera and could encourage eclipse visitors to return to the area during other vacation times.

County Emergency Management Director Judy Lafevers said her office had three goals. First and foremost was to have a safe and fun event. Second was to ensure the safety of all first responders, and third was to ensure Bandera reverts to a better or similar state after the event concludes.

She referenced the October Ring of Fire event as a test run for the April full eclipse. Lefevers said that the 84 counties affected by the eclipse were in contact with state resources. She also mentioned the strategic staging of resources in the county. The traffic situation seemed to be the most crucial discussed.

Lefevers said that providing law enforcement at main intersections would be essential. EMS vehicles would also be at a critical level. She encouraged residents to not call for EMS unless it was a life-threatening emergency.

Overloading the phone and internet resources was also mentioned as a possible problem. Lefevers said that the Bandera Emergency Operations Center would be activated at the Justice Center.

The county could experience a lack of food, cash and gasoline as a result of the influx of visitors. All the officials present agreed that Bandera should strive to remain a “friendly town.” Future tourism could be enhanced by Bandera’s friendly demeanor in a difficult situation.

Officials recommended residents fill their gas tanks a week ahead of time, prepare with sufficient cash on hand and stock up on groceries at least a week ahead of the event.

More information would be shared about the event at a later date as county and city resources came together to distribute information about the event to residents.

The officials present also agreed the smaller October event would be a good trial run for the bigger April eclipse.

Information learned from that event would help guide the city and county in their planning for the total eclipse in April 2024.