Southern Illinois will become the focus of the astronomical world in August 2017 because – per astronomical predictions – Carbondale will not only lie in the direct path of the first total solar eclipse over the U.S. since 1979, but it also will be the one place on earth where the eclipse lasts the longest – approximately 2 minutes and 40 seconds.
The Aug. 21 event is expected to attract between 50,000 and 500,000 onlookers, according to members of the Jackson County Board. The board is already laying organizational and legislative groundwork to meet the human influx.
Members of the county's Public Safety Committee predicted during a recent meeting that the eclipse crowd may stretch current public resources to the limit and that they will need a new way to track the flow of spectators.
Committee Chairman Keith Larkin said more than a few local residents have announced plans to rent their properties to visitors. Larkin said that although there's an Illinois law on the books that regulates campgrounds that operate more than six days a year, the eclipse event will only last two or three days. He said the crush of people probably will be gone before the legislative cut-off.
"What concerns us is the strain that additional population will put on the infrastructure, and not just physical infrastructure, but emergency services," Larkin said. "Assuming no negative behavior, it could still cause issues with things like traffic control and response times."
Larkin's committee has recommended the possible implementation of a new county ordinance that would require permits for those who plan to open campsites for eclipse visitors.
Larkin said such a permit would require a nominal processing fee, perhaps as low as $5, and would be intended first and foremost as a logistical planning tool.
Board members said they are concerned about the possibility that even one property owner with hundreds of acres will rent space to campers without the proper facilities for sewage or solid waste, or even the ability to provide clean drinking water.
"It's not that we don't want you to be able to have an event on your property; it's not that we don't want you to economically profit from that. We're fine with that. In fact, that's kind of what we're trying to encourage," Larkin said.
Larkin said he's also aware the eclipse will attract vendors seeking to supply food, beverages and souvenirs to eclipse-watchers. Larkin wants to ensure the county adheres to state laws that govern such mobile merchants.
"It would be irresponsible, I think, if we didn't make sure we had whatever infrastructure we needed in place to make sure those transactions are recorded for sales tax," Larkin said.