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Festival fun tempered with public safety

Boy Scout Aaron Rogers (left) with Troop 21 brings recyclable materials from the Summer Festival to the City of Washington’s trash truck used to recycle materials. The Boy Scouts and their adult leaders helped empty rollout trash carts and carts with recyclable items at the Summer Festival on Saturday afternoon. (WDN Photo/Mike Voss)

For some Washington and Beaufort County officials, their concern with the just-ended Summer Festival — and others like it — is safety.

While festival organizers and festival-goers are most likely focused on fundraising and fun, respectively, festivals mean inspections performed by the health department, crews making sure power is safely provided to festival vendors and workers hauling away festival-generate garbage.

Take all that festival food for example, especially festival food in hot months. Making sure that food supply is safe falls to the environmental-health section of the Beaufort County Health Department. State law mandates that temporary food establishments obtain permits and be pass inspections before they can sell those foot-long hot dogs, chicken teriyaki and barbecue plates to festival-goers.

Since Oct. 15, 2001, the state requires all temporary food establishments to be permitted and inspected, said Vera Vaughan, a food and lodging program specialist with Beaufort County Health Department’s environmental-health section.

“There was a study done across the state that came out there were a lot of communicable diseases and illnesses occurring from unregulated food vendors from these festivals,” she said.

That study, in part, led to the law requiring TFEs to be permitted and inspected. A food vendor at the Summer Festival is required to pay a $75 application fee and pass an inspection before being given a permit to operate, Vaughan said.

On Friday, Vaughan and two other environmental-health employees inspected the food vendors.

“We look to make sure the food is protected, that it’s, prior to being cooked, held at the right temperature, after it’s cooked, held at the right temperature. Hand washing is key to preventing communicable diseases. That’s where it first starts, if you’re not washing your hands correctly,” she said. “We look to see how they’re setting up. We have vendors who set up with tents. We have vendors who have the units that are all intact with water, sewer, mechanical refrigeration. … We just want to make sure that we’re protecting the public’s health and doing everything the correct way for them — that they’re washing their hands, that they’re holding food correctly, they’re cooking it correctly, hair restraints, making sure there’s a barrier between the public getting food — that there are sneeze guards in place.”

Vaughan said festival vendors are supposed to get their water at the festival site.

“Someone may be bringing well water in that may have bacteria. So, they’re supposed to come with their tanks, clean and sanitized,” she said. “The event coordinator is supposed to provide the water.”

With thousands of people generating trash at the festival, how is that trash handled?

It’s handled by a team of city employees and volunteers from two Boy Scout troops — Troop 21 and Troop 99.

The day before the festival, city workers rolled out about 90 roll-out carts in the festival area, said Allen Lewis, the city’s public-works director, in an interview Thursday. Several large trash containers are brought in, too.

About 2 p.m. Friday, four city employees and a garbage truck rode along Stewart Parkway and emptied the rollout carts, Lewis noted. That work was repeated early Saturday morning before the festival resumed by seven employees. The cleanup work was repeated this morning.

The emptying of the rollout carts about 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon was different from the other times the carts were emptied.

“We’ve got a couple of Boy Scout troops that come in because, needless to say, Saturday afternoon about 3 o’clock the parkway is packed curb to curb with wall to wall people… What they’ll do, they’ll come in. We’ll start on one end of the parkway, leave our garbage truck parked on one end of the parkway. … Those guys will go about half way down the park and pull all those rollout carts down to that garbage truck. They’ll empty them and send them back and put them back where they got them from,” he said. “Then they move down to the other end of the parkway and do the same thing. That really just saves us a lot of headache with having to drive through that crowd.”

The cleanup effort also includes sending the city’s street sweeper along the parkway this morning. Also, carts for recyclable materials were distributed in the festival area, Lewis noted.

The focus of the cleanup effort is to help ensure the public’s health and safety, Lewis said.

Washington Electric Utilities provides power pods to vendors, nonprofit groups and others with booths, trailers or other mobile structures at the festival. The pods, which made their debut over a decade ago, replace a system that was less efficient than the power pods. Before the pods were put in use, it was common for vendors and others to have their power interrupted multiple times during a festival because of strains placed on the former power distribution system.

The power pods provide a safer, more-efficient way to distribute electricity, according Keith Hardt, director of Washington Electric Utilities.

Hardt said prior to the renovation of the waterfront, the electric system that served the Summer Festival was underground and in need of major work, if not replacement. As part of the renovations, a safe, more-efficient system that met existing codes was installed, he said.

The old system was dangerous, Hardt said.

“We had guys who, in rain or in the dark, would have to stick their hands into a hole to energize wires and try to fix things,” Hardt recalled. “If you want a quote: ‘It was all duct tape and baling wire.’”

With the power pods — all 21 of them were used during the festival — in place, WEU doesn’t have to have a half dozen employees on site or on call to handle numerous outages, Hardt said. The power pods in place is usually all that’s needed to handle minor power problems, he said.

Setting aside the fact the power pods improve efficiency and save money by not having several employees working during festivals, the power pods’ main advantage is safety, Hardt noted.

“The old system was so unsafe. We never had any accidents or injuries, but there were so many near misses. … We didn’t want that to happen anymore. We wanted something that was up to code, up to all the utility and electrical codes out there so we could have it safe, and really safe for the public. That was our goal. I feel like we accomplished that,” Hardt said. “We save maintenance dollars in the long run, also.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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