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9/11 memorial ride canceled

Organizers of the 9/11 Memorial Motorcycle Ride said Tuesday that they are disappointed that the 2020 ride will be canceled, but that the focus now should be on planning the 2021 ride.

“We respect everyone’s right to protest but the 9/11 ride is not a protest,” Gary Smith, 9/11 Memorial Ride Coalition vice president said. “The 9/11 Memorial Coalition does not condone or sanction a ride.”

Smith said the purpose of the ride is to honor the memories of the lives lost in the Sept. 11 attacks and pay respects to the survivors and families. Smith urged community members to find alternative methods to honor those who lost their lives as a result of the attacks.

Thomas “Tank” Baird, Smith and Clinton Township Fire Chief Todd Winder cautioned the public that the work to host the ride is extensive and includes

coordinating train schedules and allowing traffic in the opposing direction on one-way streets.

“Some people think its just as simple as going for a ride,” Smith said, adding that he’s concerned if people push on with a large unauthorized ride “we’re going to have a catastrophe.”

“We have a safety record for the past 19 rides,” Baird said. “We have a remarkable safety record.”

In explaining the decision to cancel Tuesday morning, Gov. Tom Wolf and the state Department of Transportation “placed a new requirement on the coalition to be issued the permit for the ride that is simply ‘unobtainable,'” a Facebook post from organizers said. “We have exhausted every possible way to meet these new requirements, that were never previously required for the prior 19 rides that have taken place. And we were given less than 60 days to meet these new requirements.”

Organizers noted that the motorcycle ride passes through 19 municipalities and that this year the state informed the Coalition that each municipality would required to provide a letter to PennDOT that the municipality would indemnify or absolve state government against any lawsuits stemming from COVID-19 infections.

Winder said at least two municipalities were relunctant to indemnify the ride.

“There’s not enough time and we were told its all-or-nothing,” Winder said. “We were forced to make a decision. … We couldn’t get concessions from PennDOT.”

Some of the proposals the ride’s organizers were planning to offer were to decline to host vendors at the start and finish of the ride and to forego the memorial service that usually kicks off the ride.

“We didn’t even have the opportunity to get to that,” Baird said.

“Neither Gov. Wolf, nor PennDOT could provide us with the wording of this letter,” the Facebook post stated. “Many municipalities provided a letter to us but, without all 19, the ride permit would not be issued. They also required a ‘COVID-19 Mitigation Plan’ but could not provide any guidance or examples of such a plan.”

“When we’ve asked them what they want to see, they can’t tell us,” Winder said.

The ride attracts more than a thousand participants with people often coming from Canada and nine or more states “as far west as Missouri,” Winder said. “We weren’t going to lie to them and say we were going to have 250.”

The social media post also expressed gratitude for Lycoming County’s delegation to the state legislature — state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township; state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Pennsdale and state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township — for their efforts to intervene on the ride’s behalf.

Everett has told organizers, they said, that PennDOT can grant a waiver from the requirement and the legislators “are working diligently” on securing waivers for 2021.

“Understand that this cancellation was caused by Governor Wolf and PennDOT,” The organizers’ Facebook post said. “We apologize. Please understand that this decision was forced upon us. We are disappointed, disheartened, and quite frankly, just plain disgusted about this.”

Baird, Smith and Winder encouraged supporters of the ride to contact Wolf’s office.

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