After residents’ requests to cancel the annual Fourth of July fireworks display went unheeded by Highway One President Alex Pires, the state ordered the cancellation of the event in a June 30 letter emailed to Pires.
“Your anticipated large event is illegal, is in direct violation of the governor’s order, endangers the public health, and may not proceed,” Delaware Division of Small Business Director Damian DeStefano stated. “Further failure to comply with the governor’s order constitutes a criminal offense and may result in fines and imprisonment.”
The governor’s 21st modification to the state of emergency prohibits indoor or outdoor events of more than 250 people. Anyone seeking to host larger events must submit a plan seven days before the event; plans are approved or denied by the Division of Small Business in consultation with the Division of Public Health, DeStefano said.
“You did not submit a plan to host this event nor did you address any of the minimum requirements, thereby violating the 21st modification,” DeStefano stated.
DeStefano said he learned about the event through public postings and advertisements, and said the proposed event posed significant health risks for attendees and the state as a whole in that Pires was actively encouraging people to crowd establishments, “including encouraging standing room at your restaurants which is currently prohibited, and the public beach in Dewey Beach.”
Referring to Gov. Carney’s June 30 announcement to delay proceeding with reopening due to increased positive COVID-19 cases in Delaware’s beach areas, DeStefano said the rate of positive tests in the 19971 ZIP code is 9 percent, above state average, and that the number of positive cases has increased tenfold in the same area.
Dewey Beach Mayor Dale Cooke, who was cc’ed in the letter sent to Pires, said he was sad not to have the fireworks, but relieved officials wouldn’t have to manage tens of thousands of people who would flock to the only fireworks show at the beach.
“The gridlock would have been enormous,” Cooke said. “I hate to see it canceled, but it’s for the best at this time. It would be a shame if Alex is not able to recoup his investment.”
Highway One’s permit to hold the fireworks display from a barge on Rehoboth Bay was granted by the Delaware state fire marshal. Because it was outside town limits, the town could not approve or cancel the event, Cooke said.
Dewey Beach Budget and Finance Committee member Phil Winkler, who appealed to Pires to cancel the fireworks, said DeStefano’s letter is one of the most accurate explanations he has read of why crowds are not permitted during the pandemic.
“It is quite clear now why Highway One did not put up a fight,” Winkler said. “Still, one has to wonder why this was unknown to them during their planning. Did this policy not get wide distribution?”
When asked July 1 whether he planned to postpone fireworks to Labor Day as some other beach towns have done, Pires said he had no comment.