Coos Bay fireworks

Fireworks explode over Coos Bay as hundreds of people gather to celebrate Friday along the boardwalk downtown.

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COOS BAY — The City of Coos Bay's annual Fireworks over the Bay event has been canceled.

It is the latest of dozens of events that have been postponed or canceled entirely over concerns about spreading the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

“It’s going to ruffle some folks’ feathers, it’s going to upset people that we’re not doing the fireworks for the Fourth of July — it is the nation’s holiday. But there are times throughout history when our nation does what is in the best interest of the whole,” Councilman Drew Farmer said of the decision.

Though Coos Bay will not have fireworks this year, the city will look into ways to celebrate Independence Day in a safe way.

“We’re not sure what it’s going to be, but we will do something,” Mayor Joe Benetti said.

Coos Bay City Council met virtually Tuesday night, broadcasting the regular meeting on Facebook. The group decided unanimously to cancel the Fourth of July fireworks display as staff had determined there was no way to comply with state social distancing restrictions during the event.

Money considerations

Another factor in the discussion was that the fireworks were already ordered prior to Tuesday night’s meeting, though the city did not yet have possession of the fireworks. The supplies for the fireworks show each year usually arrive a few days prior to the show. The contract was for $15,000 worth of fireworks.

By canceling the event entirely, and canceling the order, the city would be responsible for a 25% cancellation fee, per their contract with Western Display Fireworks. The company offered the city the opportunity to apply the cancellation fee as a down payment for a 2021 fireworks show, rather than losing the money entirely, as a concession to the circumstances surrounding the pandemic. The council voted to take advantage of this offer.

State restrictions

Coos County is expected to move into Phase 2 of reopening by July, which would allow gatherings of up to 100 people. Mayor Joe Benetti suggested that, perhaps, the city could somehow arrange small gatherings of 100 people or under to watch the show.

However, city staffers asserted that it was impossible to maintain social distancing within the larger groups — which is still required in Phase 2 — or to enforce group sizes. Further, City Manager Rodger Craddock said, there simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate the numbers of people who normally attend the event, even if they were separated.

While it was suggested the council could postpone the decision until later, Councilwoman Stephanie Kilmer said that several surrounding municipalities have canceled their displays already. Bandon recently canceled its display, as did Reedsport, which is held in Winchester Bay.

She suggested that if Coos Bay held the event, larger-than-normal crowds would flock to the area.

The council discussed the possibility of postponing the display until Labor Day, but Fire Chief Mark Anderson felt this was unwise. Labor Day is later in the fire season and drier conditions could raise the fire risk.

Additionally, as he stated, Governor Kate Brown has asserted that social distancing restrictions for large events would not be lifted until either a vaccine or a reliable treatment for the virus were developed. Anderson suggested that the earliest these might be available was October. Other estimates have asserted the pandemic could continue into 2022. Until restrictions are lifted, an event the size of Fireworks over the Bay would not be feasible.

Safer celebrations

Though the council voted unanimously to cancel the event, Councilman Carmen Matthews suggested that the city celebrate the occasion in a different way that would allow for social distancing.

The council did not decide on what this celebration may entail, but Benetti asked staff to work with council members to come up with an alternative. Several council members volunteered and made suggestions. Matthews suggested that firetrucks could drive through the city. Other council members suggested the trucks play the national anthem or distribute American flags.

Cheryl Upshaw can be reached at 541-266-6049, or by email at worldnews5@countrymedia.net.

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