High water may force move of Cape Libertyfest

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The 2008 Libertyfest and Air Show may be forced to shift from the riverfront to Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

It all depends on the Mississippi River.

This is the first year Libertyfest and the annual air show have combined events, set for 3 to 11 p.m. July 4 in downtown Cape Girardeau.

"Even if the floodgates are open and the water is at 31 feet, it's still a safety issue," said Bruce Loy, manager of Cape Girardeau Regional Airport. "The majority of people that would be attending would be seated on the river side of the flood wall."

Loy said a final decision will be made later this week. He'd hoped to wait until Monday but said the logistics involved -- from setting up fireworks to allocating parking space for visitors and vendors and staging areas for music acts and other displays -- are complicated and require more advance notice.

He said mobile vendors would be asked to bring more food if the show is moved to the airport.

According to Alex Dodd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., the current forecast indicates the river will crest at 43.5 feet Tuesday. The forecast can change, based on the weather, he said. But there is no prediction for how quickly the Mississippi River will go down to a safe level for the event, he said, other than "slowly."

Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape, said she would be "very disappointed" if the venue changes, but "you can't control the river, unfortunately, and we have to make sure everybody, including performers, pyrotechnics and people viewing the event, are safe. We will make that decision when the time comes."

Mills said it would not make sense, after all the work of intertwining the two events, to try to divide them on such short notice. Combining Libertyfest with the annual air show was a "massive effort," Loy and Mills said, and they were looking forward to seeing crowds downtown.

"From my perspective, obviously, bringing people downtown is what we're all about," she said. "A lot of establishments were going to be open, and it's going to have an impact if we have to move."

Now the task is to make a decision before the weekend so people won't be confused about where to go and what to expect.

"I think if we do move that event, I'm almost sure First Friday will move its date and other activities to bring people downtown will probably be postponed."

Loy said he's already been in touch with the Federal Aviation Agency to secure permission for possible fireworks at the airport and for airspace assignments for flights unrelated to the air show to be shifted.

Regardless of where the 2008 Libertyfest and Air Show happens, admission will be free, Loy said.

But people should plan on bringing their own blankets or chairs for watching the air show and fireworks.

pmcnichol@semissoruian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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