State encouraging county fairs to keep planning without guidance

Local News

DUNKIRK, N.Y. (WIVB) – Chautauqua County Fair organizers say they’ve run out of time. The 2021 edition of the fair was canceled Tuesday, meaning the fairgrounds in Dunkirk will be empty for a second year in a row.

Dave Wilson, the president of the fair board, is of one dozens of local fair leaders across New York State who have been waiting for the Department of Health in Albany to release guidance for local fairs. Last Monday, a NYSDOH spokesperson said that guidance was forthcoming. But eight days later, still nothing. And the Chautauqua County Fair, which was scheduled to begin on July 19th, had to pull the plug, Wilson said.

“There’s been a lot of speculation,” he added. “But it’s hard to hold the county fair on speculation because we just don’t know what the rules are. So we don’t know what to lay out and what to do.”

Wilson was hoping the guidance would be delivered by May 1st, which he called his “drop dead” date. When it didn’t come, he was out of options. The Chautauqua County Fair is the first local county fair to scrap it’s 2021 plans, according to the New York State Association of Agricultural Fairs website.

“It’s just getting late in the game and you can’t just snap your fingers and put a fair together,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of parts to it.”

Last Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the New York State Fair in Syracuse could take place this Summer with 50% capacity. But he said nothing about county fairs. The state’s Department of Health reiterated again Tuesday that an advisory specific to fairs and festivals is forthcoming. In a statement, the department suggested local fair organizers continue to plan.

“(C)ounties and event organizers can continue to plan these events consistent with recent announcements and existing State guidance for the respective activities including amusement, food and beverage service, retail, performing arts, and entertainment,” officials wrote in the NYSDOH statement.

Erie County Fair officials declined to comment Monday on the absence of state guidance. But on Tuesday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz noted the issue.

“I’m not surprised to hear about the Chautauqua County Fair,” Poloncarz said. “I feel sorry for the people in Chautauqua County. Hopefully we’ll have enough time for the Erie County Fair to put together a plan, present it to us, and then we can say, ‘Yes. Let’s go ahead under these stipulations here.'”

The Erie County Fair is scheduled to begin on August 11th.

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2017. See more of his work here.

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