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 Llano County’s final eclipse briefing: ‘We’re as ready as we’ll ever be’

Llano County Emergency Management Coordinator Gilbert Bennett

Llano County Emergency Management Coordinator Gilbert Bennett listens to Sheriff Bill Blackburn explain how he will deploy deputies during the April 8 total solar eclipse. Bennett gave his final briefing on the eclipse to county commissioners on March 25. He has attended 25 meetings on the eclipse to date. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

Llano County commissioners expressed some skepticism of Emergency Management Coordinator Gilbert Bennett’s approach to preparing for the total solar eclipse when he gave one last briefing during a Commissioners Court meeting on Monday, March 25. Bennett has led the charge on county eclipse preparation for over a year.

“Thursday (March 28) will be my twenty-sixth meeting on the eclipse,” said Bennett at the outset of his presentation. “I’m really focused on 48 hours: Sunday (April 7), Monday (April 8), and into Tuesday (April 9).”

The centerline of the April 8 total solar eclipse will pass directly through Llano County, making it a prime destination for eclipse watchers from around the world. Data collected from the 2017 total solar eclipse over Oregon, Wyoming, and Colorado gave local leaders reason to believe that potentially tens of thousands of visitors could descend upon the Highland Lakes on and around April 8.

Bennett and other emergency management leaders have been preparing for the event since March 2023. While Bennett helped create the comprehensive Eclipse Information Guide and has spoken at several community town halls and given numerous briefings on the eclipse, he has consistently made it clear it is up to residents to be personally ready for any challenges that come with a massive amount of visitors.

“Every individual and neighborhood needs to be prepared for this event,” he said during a Llano County Commissioners Court meeting on Feb. 26. “It is not a declared disaster in Llano County yet.”

Burnet, San Saba, Travis, Bell, Kendall, and Kerr counties have all passed disaster declarations in case they need extra emergency assistance. 

Commissioner Peter Jones asked Bennett whether a burn ban should be imposed during the eclipse like ones scheduled for Burnet County and the city of Horseshoe Bay. Bennett said it would not be necessary due to the expected green foliage and wet weather.

Bennett’s office has made extensive preparations to coordinate with local fire departments, law enforcement, and emergency services to ensure effective communication continues during the eclipse and resources are properly allocated. However, he stressed that much of the trouble that could arise from the eclipse is out of his hands.

“We’ll define the things we can’t control: weather, other people and their plans and decisions, traffic, the moon and the sun, and trash,” he said.

Commissioner Jerry Don Moss pointed out he thought some of those things could be helped.

“I’ll disagree with you a little bit, as far as what people do,” Moss said. “We can help that a little bit, (especially with) trash. You and I have actually had this discussion.”

The Commissioners Court approved placing 10 dumpsters strategically across the county for use by eclipse visitors. Bennett plans to wait until after everyone leaves to set out the dumpsters so county residents don’t use them household trash and to discourage trash being generated at all.

“If you put a dumpster out, people are going to use it, even those who would take advantage of a free dumpster,” Bennett explained. “Doing it ahead of time, I think, will create a problem. I have a feeling that the majority of people will not litter. The majority of people will pick up their trash and take it with them.”

Moss questioned Bennett’s reasoning and implied it would make more sense to have the dumpsters available for visitors to use.

“What if there is trash, garbage, that is in bags (after the eclipse)? Who’s going to pick it up?” Moss asked.

Bennett responded that volunteers could be used.

Moss also asked if traffic over the Roy Inks Bridge would be managed at all. The bridge runs through the city of Llano and could become a natural chokepoint for heavy traffic.

“It’s going to be just like Fourth of July traffic,” Bennett said. “It will be like an L.A. freeway, moving two miles an hour across the bridge. You can’t do anything about traffic.”

The Llano County Sheriff’s Office and other first responders will stage units on either side of the bridge to ensure response times remain as low as possible in the event of heavy traffic.

“We’re as ready as we’ll ever be,” Bennett said. “We’ve had enough meetings about it.”

“I’m going to remember you said that,” Moss responded.