$8K cost of rescuing 'over-refreshed' floating Americans frustrates Sarnia mayor

In the aftermath of the St. Clair River rescue, Sarnia parks and recreation staff spent hours cleaning up trash left behind by the partiers — including coolers, rafts, beer cans, a picnic table and inflatables.

Rescue effort that used 10 city buses and a police escort back to Michigan has cost city $8,181

Thousands of people gathered for the Port Huron Float Down and floated down the St. Clair River on Sunday, but hundreds ended up in Canada by accident. (Mark R. Rummel/The Times Herald/The Associated Press)

Sarnia, Ont., Mayor Mike Bradley is frustrated with the cost of Sunday's massive St. Clair River rescue, when high winds forced 1,500 American partiers and their trash onto the shores of his southwestern Ontario city.

City staff say they spent $8,181 mobilizing an exhaustive rescue to pull people from the water, elevate their body temperatures and transport them back across the border.

Unexpected wind pushed the Americans off course during the planned — but unsanctioned — Port Huron Float Down, an annual event that requires rescue assistance almost every year, authorities say.

Every third Sunday in August, the daredevils float down the river on rafts and inner tubes, starting in Port Huron, Mich., across the river from Sarnia.

"I'm hoping that some common sense will spring out of this," Bradley said. "We could have had a major tragedy on our hands if the weather had been a bit more violent or the day had been a bit more wild on the river."

'Don't land in Canada'

Hundreds of Americans plucked from the water and off the Canadian shore of the St. Clair River were shipped back to Port Huron, Mich., aboard Sarnia Transit buses. (Sarnia Police/Twitter)

The trip usually stretches 12 kilometres, all the way to Marysville, Mich. A website for the unofficial event warns participants about the risks.

"Don't land in Canada," the site proclaims. "That's the east shore. Stay to the west."

High winds, however, made that impossible.

"There were Americans everywhere," Peter Garapick of the Canadian Coast Guard told CBC on Monday. "There was no chance for anything floating, or people on inner tubes, to go anywhere but Canada."

Rescue support also came from the OPP, Canada Border Services Agency and Port Huron Police. 

Sarnia, which co-ordinated much of the rescue on the ground, spent an estimated $5.40 per person rescued Sunday. Other groups, like the Canadian Coast Guard, have yet to tally their costs.

Bradley will meet with his staff soon to determine exactly how many resources were used and to hash out ideas for making the unsanctioned event safer.

"You want people to have fun," Bradley said. "But at the same time, you want some responsibility. In a number of the situations, there was absolutely no responsibility, and what they were really doing was putting that on the shoulders of the responders."

19 trips across border

The City of Sarnia is calculating the cost of the weekend's rescue when 1,500 Americans washed up in Canada. (Canadian Coast Guard)

Ten Sarnia Transit buses and drivers made 19 trips across the border. Public works crews closed streets to get the convoy of buses to the United States, while police escorted them across the Bluewater Bridge.

In the aftermath, parks and recreation staff spent hours cleaning up trash left behind by the partiers, including coolers, rafts, beer cans, a picnic table and several inflatable devices.

Costs of the rescue were tallied late Tuesday, coming in at $8,181.77 so far. Police resources reached $3,405.92, while Sarnia Transit spent $1,977.97. Fire services used up $1,435.88 in resources, while public works and the parks department reached a combined total of $1,362.

Bradley isn't happy about putting his taxpayers on the hook for the bill, but says police made the right decision to call in transit buses.

"When you've got over 1,500 people — many of them over-refreshed, to use the phrase — on your doorstep, you have to handle them in a manner that doesn't lead to any other issues," he said. 

Who's responsible?

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation would like to see U.S. government officials take more responsibility for the event. Federal director Aaron Wudrick says it might be worth trying to recoup costs.

"If you have situations where people are knowingly, willingly, recklessly putting themselves in situations that are going to require considerable use of taxpayer-funded resources, it might be appropriate in those cases for the government to seek some cost recovery," he said.

About 1,500 partying Americans had to be rescued from the St. Clair River and returned to the U.S. on the weekend after wind blew them to Canada. 0:22

Bradley and officials from the Coast Guard would like to see people implement rules for the trip to make it safer. But finding someone to take responsibility for the event has been a challenge.

"I think it's going to be difficult to find anyone to step up and say: I'm going to be accountable for the actions of 4,000 or 5,000 people going into the river on a hot summer day and a lot of them very engaged in alcohol," Bradley said.

Erik Kimball owns the website He says he is not an official organizer of the event because there is none.


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