A long overlooked state permitting requirement is now being enforced by the state Department of Transportation and it is placing long-standing local events in jeopardy.
The state’s indemnification requirement could be used to cancel this year’s Backyard Broadcasting’s annual Firework Celebration held on the Market Street Bridge. However Mayor Derek Slaughter hopes that a waiver submitted by the city will allow the event to continue.
It’s the first year the city has needed to submit a waiver for the event, Slaughter said.
The state requirement was the cause of the 2020 cancellation of the 9/11 Memorial Motorcycle Ride.
This is not a new requirement through PennDOT, according to Kim Smith, safety press officer for PennDOT.
“We understand that this requirement was not uniformly enforced on past permits, but during the COVID pandemic these special event permits came under additional legal review,” Smith said. “Since this error has been brought to our attention, the Department must comply with all applicable laws and regulations. The regulation does not provide PennDOT with the authority to waive the indemnification requirement.”
The requirement calls for the municipalities directly affected by the event to submit a commitment to be responsible for any accidents at the event, and indemnify PennDOT from responsibility. Williamsport, South Williamsport and Loyalsock Township (which owns the sections of the river under the bridge), are all required to agree to the indemnification document.
Neither South Williamsport nor Loyalsock Township are willing to agree to PennDOT’s terms, nor should they, according to Slaughter, we added that Williamsport is the only municipality responsible for the event.
Slaughter said the city has submitted a waiver offering full liability insurance coverage for the fireworks event. The city is still waiting for a response from PennDOT, he said.
The cancellation of the 9/11 Memorial Motorcycle Ride was not as simple of a solution.
The 2020 ride was halted by a requirement from PennDOT to receive letters from each of the 15 municipalities the ride travels through indemnifying the state from any lawsuit filed from someone who may contract COVID-19 during the event, which draws many crowds along the roadways and during the ceremony.
Some municipalities declined to provide the letter of indemnity and PennDOT, in turn, declined to provide the permit for the ride, which travels on state roads.
“It’s sad that last year and this year it may not be held because of a legal technicality,” said Commissioner Scott Metzger on Tuesday.
Commissioner Tony Mussare called for a change in this process, encouraging residents to call their representatives in Harrisburg and voice their concern.
“If we hide behind liability issues like we do so much … we need to change our laws and we need to take action in Harrisburg,” Mussare said.