The North Shores Board of Governors has formally opposed a proposal to encourage parking at Gordons Pond in Cape Henlopen State Park for the annual Rehoboth Beach July 4 fireworks.
In a letter to Rehoboth City Manager Sharon Lynn, the board wrote, “Given the serious public health and safety deficiencies inherent in the proposed plan, we believe the proposed plan entails unacceptable risks to public health, safety and security."
Rehoboth Main Street, sponsor of the fireworks, was forced to seek alternatives for parking because a private lot adjacent to Jungle Jim's on Route 1, used for parking for several years, will become a construction zone when workers break ground on a new 90-unit hotel.
Kathy McGuiness, chair of Rehoboth Main Street’s fireworks committee, said using the Rehoboth Elementary School has been explored, but the property is unavailable because the Rehoboth Beach Classic soccer tournament takes place at the school over July 4 weekend.
The Tanger Outlets parking lots used to be available when the fireworks were held on Sundays, because the outlets closed early. But since the fireworks are now held on July 4, McGuiness said, the outlets are usually still open when the fireworks go off.
The board, a homeowners' association that governs North Shores, is concerned that Ocean Drive, the road that connects Gordons Pond and Rehoboth, will become a bottleneck. The road is the primary access road through North Shores.
Traffic parking at Gordons Pond would interfere with emergency-vehicle access and create a hazardous condition for pedestrians crossing Ocean Drive to watch the fireworks, the letter said.
“North Shores has over 1,000 residents during the summer. Normally, Gordons Pond Park is closed at dark, and the only traffic along Ocean Drive consists of local residents familiar with the location and user base of the crosswalks,” the letter says. “Neither the Gordons Pond State Park parking area nor the pedestrian crosswalks along Ocean Drive are intended to handle heavy traffic in the hours after dark.”
The board’s letter states street lighting in the area is not adequate to handle July 4 fireworks traffic. The letter also raises concerns over security on the beach before and after the fireworks, sanitation and the risk of impaired drivers.
The letter says there is also no plan for overflow parking once the Gordons Pond lot is full. The board says it will enforce no parking on private roads in North Shores by towing vehicles away, a situation the board says will lead to similar safety concerns in north Rehoboth’s Pines neighborhood when overflow vehicles start parking there.
Finally, the board objects to the absence of shuttle service moving spectators from Gordons Pond into Rehoboth.
“This means that spectators wishing to have a better view of the show than is afforded nearly two miles north of the actual display will either be forced to walk along Ocean Drive or along the high water line of the North Shores and Henlopen Acres private beaches, in either case almost guaranteeing the likelihood of spectators trespassing on private lands,” the letter said.
The board goes on to call the proposed plan ill-conceived and states it does not address health, safety and security concerns.
In addressing the letter's concerns, McGuiness said talks with state and local officials are ongoing. Additional lights, portajohns and park security have been lined up, and Delaware Department of Transportation has been involved in talks to use Gordons Pond’s 450 spaces.
McGuiness said signs will be posted to let people know when the lot is full and no parking will be allowed on the shoulder of Ocean Drive in North Shores.
In addition to park rangers, all Rehoboth police officers will be on duty for the fireworks show.
Jerry Nagyiski, DelDOT safety engineer, said the plan was not yet finalized but is better than nothing at all. He said the department will have further meetings with Rehoboth officials in hopes of finalizing the parking plan in early June.
Parking at Gordons Pond will be $4 for Delaware residents and $8 for out-of-state residents; McGuiness said parking permits for Cape Henlopen State Park will also be honored.
Visitors can also park at the Park & Ride off Route 1 to bus into town or take the Jolly Trolley, which will run from Rehoboth to Dewey Beach and back.
The fireworks show will start at 9:15 p.m. on the beach near the Star of the Sea condominium at 307 S. Boardwalk. McGuiness said the state fire marshal has advised Main Street that fireworks shows in Dewey Beach, Rehoboth and Bethany Beach should go off at the same time.
Lynn said officials are aware there will be a bottleneck on Ocean Drive. “At this point, we are looking at everything," she said. "My concern is that people get in and out safely.”
“We’ll make it work as best we can,” she said. “I’m optimistic about it. The fireworks have been here for many years, and we need to make it work safely.”