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Officials decry permit process for parades

Organizations that want to sponsor a parade to salute American war heroes, celebrate a community’s Declaration of Independence signing or watch Mummer string bands as Spiderman hands out candy are having a challenge this year getting special events permits from the state Department of Transportation.

Regulations from PennDOT require a municipality hosting the parade and the organization to sign-off, and the municipality to indemnify the state (commonwealth) from any lawsuit.

Other logistical matters, including rules to keep people safe from COVID-19 spread, have made the permitting process a lengthier and more complicated one, said numerous municipal leaders and parade organizers in Lycoming County.

Before COVID-19, a borough police chief would help an organization fill out and submit a special events’ permit for a parade on a state road or right-of-way.

Those days appear to be over, and it’s prolonging the process for organizations, which need to get a permit from PennDOT, state and local officials said.

Applicants must have proper insurances, copies and statement from the municipality will agree to full “indemnify” or protect the agency from any claims, suits or actions for injury, death or property damage arising from or because of the acts or omissions of the sponsor, its officers, agents or employees.

“The biggest impact it has on us in Muncy is our chief of police used to assist in helping groups to fill the permit application out,” said Charles S. Hall, borough manager.

“Going forward, the individual group will have to fill it out and submit the form,” he said.

“That is not to say the chief won’t assist to some degree, but at the end of day those folks have to submit the application themselves,” Hall said.

As an example, he said, organizers of a Corvette show on Main Street had their special events permit returned two or three times for additional questions.

“It has been changed into a more bureaucratic process,” Hall said. “It has become cumbersome.”

“Due to the ongoing pandemic, the events need to comply with all current and applicable state orders regarding COVID-19 and all virus safety mitigation guidance, including but not limited to, guidance from the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control,” according to PennDOT permit guidelines.

These guidelines were forwarded to the Sun-Gazette upon request by Maggie Baker, community relations coordinator with PennDOT District 3-O in Montoursville.

Unlike in prior years, before the virus took hold, PennDOT may now also permit the temporary use of sidewalks or travel lanes in state right-of-way to accommodate additional public space for tables and seats and retail activities, the guidelines stated.

It is just one example of how the permitting process has become more complicated.

“The Commonwealth’s COVID-era modifications to granting special event road and bridge closure permits involving state routes and highways has become unacceptably cumbersome,” said Steven W. Cappelli, borough manager and public safety director ahead of the borough hosting the 75th Mummer’s Parade in October.

The permits are no longer handled locally, but, rather, heading to PennDOT central office in Harrisburg, he said.

“It is my understanding that said permit applications must be approved not only by PennDOT, but the governor himself,” according to Cappelli. “Our borough will need to navigate these same burdensome waters for our 75th Mummer’s Parade in October. … With most pandemic restrictions having been lifted for indoor and outdoor gatherings, the state needs to return to a more simplified, and far less time consuming application process for reviewing and approving special event permits for community events.”

In Williamsport, Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator, said the fireworks will happen and the Market Street bridge will be temporarily closed for the duration of the fireworks for safety purposes. The permit took some time to get but it was approved and that includes proper indemnification to clear away and liability concerns for the state, he said.

“The biggest thing is the change makes it so what used to be a permit that went before the local district office now must go to Harrisburg,” Gerardi said.

PennDOT regulations establish the minimum criteria for these events for local roadways and state highways, according to the permit guidelines.

Special event permits are used to authorize temporary road closures and other event-related uses of PennDOT’s right-of-way. PennDOT doesn’t not permit or sanction the event, only the occupancy.

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