(June 26, 2020) After hashing out a communication snafu that occurred last week, the Ocean City Council is eyeing sometime in August or Labor Day weekend to host its postponed Fourth of July fireworks.
“At our meeting last Monday, we had this on the agenda, and quite possibly I did not articulate the question well enough, but it was our advice at the time that we not shoot on [July 4], even though we all wanted to, because again of the state regulations as it relates to gatherings,” City Manager Doug Miller told the mayor and City Council Tuesday.
Miller said he had hoped the fireworks vendor, Celebration Fireworks, could attend the meeting to join the date issue discussion, but the company had prior obligations.
“I had to conduct a poll of you by phone, and three members wanted to proceed with fireworks, four wanted to delay,” Miller said.
Councilmen Matt James, Mark Paddack and John Gehrig favored staying with the scheduled Fourth of July fireworks, while Council members Lloyd Martin, Dennis Dare, Tony DeLuca and Mary Knight preferred delaying the show.
Potential delay dates were the first three weeks in August, preferably in conjunction with the OC Air Show, or Labor Day weekend.
“We don’t know where we’re going to be with covid-19, and hopefully we’re going to be better, and everything needs to be right, by Labor Day,” Martin said. “I like the Labor Day dates, that’s my personal opinion.”
Knight said while the fireworks display may be delayed, Ocean City still had plenty of activities to offer during that weekend.
“We still have the sun, we have more open air restaurants than we’ve ever had before, that Monday we’re going to have a drive-in movie … that Friday we have movies on the beach — there’s so many other things you can enjoy [during] your celebration here in Ocean City, without having fireworks,” Knight said.
Nonetheless, James expressed his dissatisfaction, and questioned the nature of the decision, as well.
“I think we need good news, I think we need something to celebrate and I think we need to make up our mind whether we’re open or we’re closed — we can’t be half in, half out,” James said. “The Boardwalk is open, the beach is open, the parks are open. I don’t understand why we can’t have fireworks. They can be viewed miles away.”
James also said that, as of June 10, the state had lifted restrictions on public, outdoor mass gatherings.
“I don’t agree with this, I don’t agree with the way it was handled,” James said. “I don’t know who made the decision, or how we got to this, but I thought we were moving forward with Fourth of July fireworks, and then we would discuss it at this meeting, but it sounds like the decision was made well before we were made aware of this last week.”
City Special Events Director Frank Miller said the postponement decision had not been made ahead of time — only a recommendation to do so.
In a previous interview with Ocean City Today, Miller said two variables played into the delay recommendation: July 4 falling on a Saturday and the cancelation of neighboring fireworks displays.
“We would automatically end up with a larger crowd just because of the day of the week the Fourth of July is celebrated on,” Miller said at the time. “The second thing is since there are no other fireworks display happening on the Fourth of July on the Eastern Shore, we would end up drawing even more of a mass crowd for it.”
While social gathering limitations have been whited out from Gov. Larry Hogan’s reopening plan as James said, mass gatherings are still frowned upon by national and local health experts.
“When we made the recommendation to postpone, and that was brought in front of council, and the decision had come down from Monday that it was being postponed, we sat down with Jessica Waters, the interim director of tourism, and discussed options,” Miller said.
He said Waters had come up with the idea to have the display during OC Air Show weekend, which draws hundreds-of-thousands of people to the resort.
“If we chose to push forward with fireworks on the Fourth of July, there were a lot of risks, which is why we recommended the postponement,” Miller said. “When we hit August, we’re hopeful that we’re going to be moving into another phase of recovery … and that larger gathering size would be a little more acceptable by not only by the health department and by the governor, but also by the general public and the media.”
Miller said the OC Air Show was likely to be held in August, and the organizers had gone to great lengths to implement health department directives and social distancing measures.
Other marketable opportunities in August included the White Marlin Open weekend and the ArtX weekend.
“For Labor Day weekend, you should look at that as the new July 4, because what we’re hearing from the fireworks company that we are contracted with is the floodgates have opened on the calls, and Labor Day is a very popular time now to redo July 4 fireworks,” Miller said.
DeLuca recommended the council wait on making a decision so that more information, particularly where the state stood in the recovery process, could be obtained.
James reiterated his stance, and said the displays would lose their meaning if held in August or another date.
Mayor Rick Meehan, who was not included in the poll, backed the postponement.
“I did send an email asking the [Worcester County] Health Department, [county health officer] Rebecca Jones, what their opinion is, was, about having the fireworks, and her reply was, ‘I would not be supportive of, and strongly encourage, them not to hold fireworks this year. We are still in a declared state of emergency,’ and she was very clear about that.”
Meehan added, “I also look at the covid-19 virus, [and] you know, for some reason sometimes everybody feels like Ocean City is a covid-free zone, and it’s not, and I think we all have to be cognizant of it … we can’t forget about it and we have to make sure that we remain vigilant and try to do everything we can to not only protect our visitors, but our residents and our employees.”