The township released the following statement to the community on June 15 regarding the township’s annual fireworks celebration.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions by governor’s executive order for large gatherings, it is with great disappointment that the township must cancel this year’s 2020 Lawrence Township’s 4th of July Fireworks Display scheduled for July 1.
This popular community event takes place at Rider University every year and includes a concert performed by a live band, food trucks, music by the Bronc Radio Station and a spectacular fireworks display. The township must make decisions that are based upon the community’s best interest.
In this situation, the township determined that it could not adequately protect the attendees from the health and safety risks posed by the virus. The township hopes that the fireworks event can be incorporated with another event at a later date this year.
Since this column’s purpose, in part, is to provide you with some insight on the thought process behind decisions made that affect the community, this seems like a topic that I should address since there are some who disagree with it.
First, I would like to start by saying that it is my belief that the world health pandemic is real, and that our community is not immune to the deadly coronavirus. There are family and friends of 68 people who died in our community from the virus who can attest to it being very real.
Secondly, I refuse to let politics cloud my judgment when it comes to making a decision about the safety of our residents for events we sponsor. Whether you agree with me or not, I am following the science in all of this. The virus is still very much among us, and I believe responsible decisions that affect public safety should be based upon this fact.
A resident on social media stated that “Lawrence isn’t even trying.” I responded, in part, “Is ‘trying’ just having an event and hope for the best? I would rather think than try.”
In another post, someone said to not blame the governor since public fireworks displays are now allowed. I responded, “The Governor did NOT remove the restrictions on public gatherings (500 people). He is allowing public firework displays subject to the outdoor gathering rules.”
Our town has historically had thousands attend the display, and there would be no feasible way to issue tickets to this event to limit the number attending.
There is no way to guarantee all to have a parking space to attend the event (if remaining in cars were a plan).
There is no way to guarantee those sitting in a car to see the fireworks display.
There is no way to safely turn away those trying to gain entrance into the Rider University parking lot who arrive after the limit is filled (whether by car or walking).
There is no way to guarantee the safety for those having to work the event.
I understand that everyone wants the fireworks display, but these events take time to plan. To determine the location where they are staged from. To ensure it can be done safely and meet the fire marshall regulations (they are varying levels of explosions).
It involves meeting very specific geographic requirements that make the locations limited in our community. To determine the location where the people will gather. To determine how many staff would need to be in place.
Some municipalities have the geographic make-up to have the fireworks as they have had (fortunately) planned pre-pandemic. We do not. Because the governor says “yes” to fireworks, but keep with my restrictions, doesn’t mean they can and should be done in our town.
Important note: To be clear, I am not blaming the governor. I am, however, acknowledging his legal authority to issue his executive orders during this health crisis, and that I have no inclination to violate them.
And please know that making decisions that affect the health and well being of residents within our community are the most important decisions we make.
It is very easy to have and express opinions coming from a perspective of personal wants and needs that don’t have to consider all that must be considered for good decisions to be made.
I thought maybe this article would help those who disagree with the decision to better understand why it was made. In the end we can agree to disagree, and we can share some common ground that it is a big disappointment to have to cancel this great community event.
We will absolutely try to have a fireworks display some time later in the year in conjunction with another community event. When it makes sense, and we have confidence that it is safe for all who attend.
Kevin Nerwinski is the Lawrence Township municipal manager.