U.S. and Canadian rescue officials want someone to take responsibility for the annual St. Clair River tubing event that drew international attention last summer when 1,500 Americans illegally washed onto Canadian shores.
The popular Port Huron Float Down is an unsanctioned leisurely event, during which people float down the river on rafts, inner tubes or whatever device they may have, starting from Port Huron, Mich., just across from Sarnia, Ont.
Last year, the party was interrupted when high winds blew most floaters to various points along the Canadian shoreline, spurring a massive rescue from Sarnia and provincial police officers, Canada Border Service Agency and both the U.S. and Canadian coast guards.
“We would like somebody to take responsibility for the event and the organization to accept liability for it,” said Mike Brown, search and rescue program officer for Canadian Coast Guard.
Because the float down made news headlines around the world, rescue officials expect more people to show up for the event, which takes place every third Sunday in August.
Coast guards on both sides of the border already deploy resources for the float down. This year, they plan to boost those.
“I anticipate we’ll need more than we had last year,” Brown said. “With that comes more co-ordinating resources, more resources and making sure we do that in an effective and efficient way.”
The U.S. Coast Guard has been trying to get someone to take responsibility for the float down, which has been a long-standing issue.
A website for the unofficial event outlines how the float down works — and the risks involved — while providing a list of safety tips, but no one has ever taken ownership of the event.
“We have to bring in a ship and a lot of personnel to respond to the event and same on the U.S. side,” Brown said.
Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley wants to see the event sanctioned as well. He saw the float down go awry from the window of his downtown condo, before heading down to see the rescue up close.
“There were people being taken from the river in very bad shape — from the cold and from alcohol — and it could have been a much more difficult situation if they’d been in the river much longer,” he said.
Bradley also praised the Americans who donated cash to an online fundraising campaign that collected more than $8,000 for the city, matching the estimated cost of Sarnia’s rescue efforts.
In the end, the city donated the money to two rescue groups, including the Canadian Red Cross.
“It was such a kind gesture,” Bradley said. “When the money was donated, we wanted it to go to some causes that would help other people in emergency situations and the Red Cross was the natural to support.”