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Turners Falls Block Party insurance  at issue

Recorder file/Peter MacDonald
Models in the recycled fashion show parade down avenue A in outfits made from recycled materials during a previous Block Party in Turners Falls.

Recorder file/Peter MacDonald Models in the recycled fashion show parade down avenue A in outfits made from recycled materials during a previous Block Party in Turners Falls.

TURNERS FALLS — The future of the Turners Falls Block Party was once again at issue this week, with insurance coverage providing a last-minute stumbling block, but co-organizer Colleen Campbell now says the event will forge ahead regardless.

Presenting the plan for the impending event, scheduled for Aug. 10, Campbell asked the Board of Selectmen on Monday if the event can use town insurance, as it did last year when under different direction.

The Block Party began in 2007 as a project of town-affiliated promotional entity Turners Falls RiverCulture, partially town-funded and with some Town Hall involvement.

Taking over Avenue A with music and food for an afternoon, the Block Party was the first of a string of new community events that have sprung up in recent years, including the Franklin County Pumpkinfest, the Montague Soapbox races and the Mutton and Mead Medieval Festival. All are frequently credited by business owners in the downtown area with contributing a sense of vitality and bringing in shoppers, diners and revellers.

The insurance question is one of expense to the event organizers, available time, and the propriety or feasibility of using town insurance to cover an event that is no longer affiliated with town government.

From the town-affiliated RiverCulture, direction of the event fell to the independent nonprofit Gill-Montague Community School Partnership for two years. That organization announced it would not stage the event this year, citing a strain on its capacity to meet its school-related mission.

Campbell, of Leverett, and village resident Pamela Allan volunteered to take the reins in March.

Under RiverCulture, the event was eligible for town insurance coverage, and the selectmen last year authorized use of town insurance for the event under the direction of the non-town-affiliated partnership.

Mark Fairbrother, chairman of the Board of Selectmen following Monday’s post-election reorganization, said he was not comfortable with extending town insurance to an event that is not sponsored by the town.

“I’m in favor of the Block Party, they’re great ... but I’m not sure the town should be giving their insurance coverage to this,” Fairbrother said.

The board initially headed in the direction of checking with the town insurer prior to making a decision, until Selectman Michael Nelson raised concerns for the party’s future.

Nelson, newly elected to the board in the June special election, as a private citizen also organizes the annual Pumpkinfest.

The board meets every other week on its summer schedule and Nelson worried a delay would not leave enough time for the organizers to secure their own event insurance. Proof of insurance is among the requirements for use of public property, and the Block Party occupies the village’s main street for hours.

Insurance is also expensive, Nelson said, with his own event paying several thousand dollars, a full third of the operating budget.

At member Christopher Boutwell’s suggestion the board voted to allow the event to be covered by town insurance, provided the town’s insurer agrees, and with Nelson’s caveat that this apply for the current year only and that organizers come back to the board much earlier next year.

The motion carried 2-1, with Fairbrother opposed, leaving the question in the hands of the insurance company.

Campbell said Wednesday she had not heard anything regarding the insurance request, but said she has reached out to other insurance providers and is preparing a backup plan.

“We’re going ahead, we’ll work something out,” Campbell said. Campbell said she has worked with two insurers providing affordable event coverage in the past, and if either of these comes through, the event has the money to move forward.

The event, now the Turners Falls Block Party and Heritage Festival, is coming along well, Campbell said, with a variety of bands and food vendors lined up. The event is sponsored by businesses and the community, accepting donations through its Facebook site. Organizers plan a trivia night fundraiser July 25 from 8 to 10 p.m. at Jake’s Tavern, 66 Avenue A, $10 to play, registration via email tfblockparty2013@gmail.com.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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