A time-honored Jersey Shore tradition may go to the wayside for one year in Seaside Heights, after borough officials said they received bad news on the prospect of holding a July 4 fireworks display this year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Phil Murphy has placed restrictions on gatherings other than protests or religious services. Though the limit of people gathering was expanded to 100 recently, and is expected to be further heightened to 500 by the July 4 holiday, a fireworks display that usually draws thousands of spectators does not look to be approved by the state.
“We were in communication with the governor’s office the last two days,” Borough Administrator Christopher Vaz said Wednesday at a meeting of the borough council. “They’re basically saying that fireworks or any type of special events is tied into this outdoor gathering limitation. We were basically told because we can have 10, 15, 20,000 people on our boardwalk, we will never be able to comply with the 500-person limit.”
At the same time, other towns are finding ways around the limit. Toms River will host fireworks in the Shelter Cove neighborhood, but they are being sponsored by a private business that can likely certify fewer than 500 people will be present on-premises. The location of the display will also mean boaters can anchor up to catch a glimpse of the Independence Day tradition.
“On the flip side of that, there was an announcement that Bradley Beach is moving forward with July 3 fireworks,” said Vaz. “It’s really a pedestrian-only boardwalk without shops or amusements, but I still don’t know how they plan on complying.”
Seaside Heights’ fireworks are sponsored by the borough’s Business Improvement District and are normally shot off on the beach. Fireworks displays in New Jersey are heavily regulated, and must comply with numerous safety codes and sometimes have a representative from the state fire marshal’s office on site. It is unknown that if the borough approved a fireworks display, the state would issue a permit or send an employee to oversee the operation. There are also questions as to whether the Ocean County Joint Insurance Fund would cover any mishaps if the borough was found to have allowed a display that is not permitted under Murphy’s executive order.
Seaside Heights has historically been extra cautious of fireworks displays after a tragic mishap occurred in 1984, when an unexploded shell landed on the boardwalk, killing a 9-year-old boy.
“Clearly, to the liability issue, there would be significant liability concerns and those concerns would be heightened if we did not have insurance coverage,” Borough Attorney Jean Cipriani said.
Mike Redpath, executive director of the business district, said his organization submitted an application to hold a display which was accepted by the state, but was never actually considered for approval. Officials said they were frustrated that no hard guidelines on fireworks displays have been published by the state government, leading to varying interpretations of the governor’s executive orders.
The council, after the discussion, ultimate granted a conditional approval for fireworks, but only if it is confirmed that a display would comply with Murphy’s executive orders and be covered by the borough’s joint insurance carrier. Officials, however, were less-than-optimistic about hosting fireworks this season.
“The messaging is not clear,” Vaz said. “We’re all just in a tough spot because of how these executive orders are coming down to us.”