OCEAN CITY — While hosting the traditional fireworks shows on the Fourth of July remains uncertain, resort officials on Monday night agreed to move forward with the contract for the vendor with alternative dates for later in the summer or even the fall.
While the Fourth of July is still more than six weeks away, the Mayor and Council had before them on Monday a decision to make regarding the contract for the annual holiday fireworks shows. City Manager Doug Miller and Special Events Director Frank Miller told the Mayor and Council a decision needed to be reached soon on inking the $55,000 contract with the vendor.
On the one hand, the contractor needs to begin purchasing the product for the fireworks show well in advance. In addition, there are critical dates upcoming for acquiring the requisite permits from the U.S. Coast Guard and the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
Due to the current COVID-19 situation, it remains uncertain just where in the governor’s recovery plan the state and Ocean City will be by the Fourth of July. However, Doug Miller and Frank Miller explained the contract includes contingency dates in August and September if the town is not in position to host the traditional mass gathering on the Fourth of July.
On Monday night, the Mayor and Council had before them a handful of options including scrapping the Fourth of July fireworks altogether in what will certainly by a non-typical summer, or approving the contract which includes contingency dates later in the summer.
Complicating the issue even further is a $13,750 non-refundable deposit the city could lose if the fireworks were not held on July 4 or any of the later contingency dates before the end of the year. The presumption is even if the Fourth of July is not possible, the current situation will have eased by those dates later in the summer or early fall, or perhaps even New Year’s Eve. After considerable back and forth, City Solicitor Heather Stansbury boiled the issue down to a simple question.
“Do you want the chance to have fireworks and risk losing the $13,750 non-refundable deposit?” she said. “That’s the question before the Mayor and Council tonight.”
After much more debate, Councilman Mark Paddack said he was in favor of moving forward with the fireworks contract and said he firmly believed the Fourth of July was still doable.
“I’m ready to go full in on the Fourth of July,” he said. “We don’t know if the governor will continue to strangle the state, but we need to move forward. The Fourth of July is still six weeks away.”
Mayor Rick Meehan said he agreed to a point, but pointed out the historic epic crowds at the south end of the Boardwalk during and immediately after the Fourth of July fireworks would run afoul of any hopes for continued social distancing.
“Down at North Division Street, it is one entire mass of people to the point you can’t even walk out to the beach,” he said. “The mass exodus pouring out of there when the fireworks are over would contradict everything about social distancing. I don’t see how that venue would be conducive to hosting fireworks unless things change drastically.”
As he has throughout each step of the town’s recovery plan, Councilman Dennis Dare advocated for a slow, conservative and lower risk recovery plan and said he couldn’t support the contract for the Fourth of July fireworks this year.
“I’m opposed to the Fourth of July whether the governor adjusts the gathering size by then or not,” he said. “I think we need to set an example. I’ve heard it said here that senior citizens and those at risk can choose to stay home and that’s true, but we saw this weekend a lot of people on the Boardwalk were not practicing social distancing. If many of them got infected and go home and test positively and the contact tracing points back at Ocean City, we can become a hot spot and end up on the morning news for a negative reason. That scares me and I don’t want that to happen.”
Councilman John Gehrig said the contract has flexibility built into it with the contingency dates and advocated for completing the contract with the vendor even at the risk of losing the $13,750 deposit.
“I think we need them,” he said. “I think we need to celebrate our independence and freedom now more than ever. The Fourth of July might be a stretch, but we can work out the details on those alternative dates when the time comes. Independence Day this year means a little something extra.”
The council voted 6-1 with Dare opposed to move forward with the Fourth of July fireworks contract with the understanding the shows might not be a go on the actual holiday and could be moved to dates later in the summer or even the fall.
“We need to celebrate, but maybe not on the Fourth of July,” said Meehan. “We have those dates available in September, October, maybe even November.”