Dillon continues conversations on July 4 fireworks, despite concerns from staff
The prospect of an Independence Day fireworks show over the Dillon Reservoir is still up in the air as the town continues to weigh tradition versus potential public safety concerns.
The issue was brought up again at the Dillon Town Council work session on Tuesday evening in what has become a relatively heated conversation between the town’s elected officials and staff. While staff was open in their thoughts on the issue — they’re largely against a display for a number of reasons including lack of adequate law enforcement and planning time — council instructed staff to continue pursuing the idea until a final decision has been made.
The greater conversation regarding fireworks began in January after Breckenridge decided to rethink their display, citing concerns over wildfires and having to cancel due to weather. Frisco followed suit in March, calling off their show because of anticipated problems with overcrowding and traffic leading to impediments for emergency workers.
As the opportunity came for Dillon to fill the void, opinions within the town were widespread. The discussion on Tuesday began with a number of pros and cons listed by town manager Tom Acre. In the pro column, Acre noted a potential boost to bars and restaurants in town, but said last year the town enjoyed a 12% increase in sales tax revenue even without a display over the lake. Aside from economics, the main incentive for a show would be keeping the tradition alive, and meeting what some believe is widespread demand for a show in the community.
“It would deliver a patriotic Fourth, keeping the tradition and going for what the public has enjoyed in the past,” said Acre.
The cons list was considerably more robust, with Acre rattling off concerns about a lack of law enforcement, forest health, traffic-related issues, budgeting, access to emergency services and the optics of the decision politically — with some anxious about raising the ire of nearby towns or sending the wrong message about fire safety in the area.
“Frisco believes their crowd for a normal Fourth of July has been about 10,000 at the marina,” said Acre. “And they anticipated without Breckenridge doing fireworks the crowd could be significantly higher. We’ve got concerns that given our resources we would struggle to safely manage this event. There are a lot of unknowns, and we feel like there wouldn’t be enough time for adequate planning.”
Dillon Police Chief Mark Heminghous shared his opinion on the matter, noting that because other municipalities and organizations in the area are hosting events, there wouldn’t be much support from other jurisdictions.
“If the 10,000 people show up that Frisco usually has … that’s a lot of people in a small area,” said Heminghous. “There could be 20,000 people. I don’t know how to really even staff this for the number of people we could have. We could just be overwhelmed.”
On top of safety and crowding problems, budgeting and messaging also remain issues. The town currently has $20,000 budgeted for a show later this year, but anticipated it would cost at least $50,000 to put on a Fourth of July show. Representatives from the county were also in attendance at the meeting to try to push the town away from fireworks, and create a more consistent message with the rest of the county.
“I get the whole tradition and the fact that Summit County has proudly hosted fireworks for decades,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “But we need to start sending a different message to everyone who comes here each summer. As difficult as this might be, given what’s happened the last couple summers, and all the push from members of the community we need to accept the idea that this is not the summer to throw a big fireworks show.”
At least two council members agreed with the staff and opposed the fireworks display. Brad Bailey said that he didn’t believe the town would have enough time to plan the event or coordinate with other towns. Mayor Carolyn Skowyra was vehemently against the idea, calling it hypocritical to support both fireworks and a climate action plan, and saying it gives the town the opportunity for something more memorable — she pitched a light show on boats at the marina instead.
Others felt that the county was being overly reactionary, responding to problems that largely haven’t emerged in previous years with fireworks displays.
“There’s a lot of mixed messaging,” said Councilwoman Jen Barchers. “Somehow it’s perfectly OK to have fireworks on Labor Day, but not the Fourth of July. … It makes me wonder why every other event in the county we aren’t as concerned about. There’s a ton of other events where we see safety issues as well, so where do we draw the line? I understand the political ramifications, but I’ve actually heard more support by far for fireworks. I’ve heard a lot of people in our community say this is Dillon’s chance to shine.”
Councilwoman Karen Kaminski also voiced her support for a fireworks display, slamming the impracticalities of trying to plan a completely new event like a marina light show on short notice.
“I would say I’d be more concerned about having a whole lot of people out on boats in the dark in the middle of the lake, and the next morning having someone missing because they were drunk partiers and nobody noticed they fell over,” said Kaminski. “If we’re going to be panicked about a fire, let’s be panicked about somebody drowning in the lake after partying all day on the Fourth of July.”
Councilman Mark Nickel also came out in support of putting on the show, citing his belief that there is widespread support in the community for a display. Council Members Renee Imamura and Kyle Hendricks were absent from the meeting, and attempts to reach them for comment were unsuccessful.
With a small majority at the workshop, the council directed town staff to continue pursuing the idea of a Fourth of July fireworks display, though no decisions have been made. The discussion will likely return to the table at the next town council workshop and meeting on May 7.
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