Three Rivers Regatta Cancels All Water-Based Activities this Weekend

But organizers say the festivities will make a splash anyhow

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
3 July 2015
By Jon Schmitz

Swift currents and debris in the water after the soggy June weather forced organizers of the EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta to cancel all river activities associated with the event, including the signature Formula One power boat races.

The conditions also had public safety officials cautioning recreational boaters who might take to the rivers this weekend, as the flow rate on the Allegheny River was more than four times what is normal.

“We’ve been inundated with heavy rains for practically the entire month of June, and it has had an impact on the rivers,” regatta board chairman John Bonassi said at a news conference Friday. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to cancel. That’s the bad news. However, the good news is the rest of the regatta remains in place and is going to be as exciting as possible.”

The decision was made after discussions with Pittsburgh River Rescue, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers and the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Mr. Bonassi said.

Lt. Devin Adams, spokesman for the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Unit in Pittsburgh, thanked the organizers for making what was a disappointing but necessary decision.
“Even though we’ve had river levels dissipate, we still had high flow rates and we still have a lot of debris that is flowing through the water,” he said.

Mr. Bonassi said weather has caused some minor disruptions of previous events but he knew of no other time in the regatta’s 38 years when all river activities had to be canceled.

“It’s going to be an extremely fun-filled weekend. Yes, we’re somewhat disappointed about the power boats but that’s just a small component of what this regatta is really all about,” he said.

In addition to the swift currents, officials were worried about debris — including tree limbs — that is below the surface and could be invisible to the racers.

“You can’t do much to really prevent it from flowing through the zone where they will be running. Some of that is also below the surface of the water and so it’s difficult to see. When you have boats that are racing in excess of 100 mph, it’s going to create a dangerous situation,” Lt. Adams said.

Tony Darkowski, chief of city river rescue, said he also was concerned about private boats on the water this weekend. The current will make anchoring difficult and could be dangerous for those who try to swim.

“Any time it rains you have to be concerned about higher bacterial counts in the water as well and so I would probably advise [people] not to be in the water,” he said. “We can’t stop anybody from getting in, and if they do get in, they should be in a life jacket or personal flotation device.”

Ray DiMichiei of the city’s emergency management office said security will be ramped up for the weekend.

“There’s a very good security plan in place. It will mirror what we did last year, plus,” he said. “We’re confident it’s going to be a safe, fun event.”

While there is a general alert throughout the nation for the holiday weekend, there is no specific credible threat of terrorism, he said. Those entering Point State Park for the 9:30 p.m. fireworks display will have their bags searched and separate checkpoints will be set up to allow those without bags to enter quickly, he said.

Boats will not be allowed to dock around the Point, Mr. DiMichiei said, even though the regatta’s river activities have been canceled. “We don’t want boats tied off. People walk away from them, they tear loose from the docks and go down the river and there’s nobody on them,” he said.

Jon Schmitz:, 412-263-1868 or on Twitter @pgtraffic.