Business organizations in Cleveland want the city, the Coast Guard and the state department of natural resources to increase the law-enforcement presence on the Cuyahoga River.
The Lake Erie Marine Trades Association, Lake Carriers Association, Downtown Cleveland Alliance, Jacobs Entertainment Group, Greater Cleveland Boating Association and U.S. Power Squadrons signed a letter sent earlier this week to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson.
“We understand and appreciate these competing demands for limited law enforcement resources; however we firmly believe this matter needs to be a priority,” the letter said. “We respectfully request your assistance in increasing waterborne and shoreside law enforcement activity on and along the Cuyahoga River. Not only is there a safety component to ensuring citizens enjoy responsibly, there is also a security concern with large crowds confined to the narrow river and waterfront area.”
Among the main concerns is the safety of those in small vessels, including rowing shells, paddleboards, kayaks and personal watercraft, on busy summer weekends when there are also boats and freighters on the river.
The Cuyahoga River Safety Task Force has been meeting for years at area Coast Guard offices, working on safety pamphlets and informational signage, and providing paddling ambassadors and dock workers on the Flats East Bank.
Representatives from the Coast Guard, Cleveland Metroparks and Ohio DNR say the resources are stretched thin from having to patrol Lake Erie as well as the river.
This past Labor Day, law enforcement had to deal with a PWC crash, a 30-foot boat that had overturned over and two fatalities on the river.
“We need someone who’s a referee, to help direct people one way or another,” said Ken Alvey, former LEMTA president, during a task force meeting this week.
The nonprofit Phastar Corp. has patrolled the river using a former Coast Guard vessel for two years, with paramedics on board. The boat escorts freighters, warns boaters to steer clear and rescued more than a dozen paddlers last year.
But Phastar can’t hand out tickets for violations. “A blue light does the most communication of anything that can be done,” Alvey said.
Phastar founder Drew Ferguson said he supported more help from law enforcement, but he’s also realistic. “In a city where they can’t even fill their homicide unit, we’re asking them to put dudes in boats,” he said. “There’s ways we can do this that don’t depend on county government or city government or fed government.”