There will be no Fourth of July fireworks display put on by the City and Borough of Juneau this year, after Assembly members voted down a proposed ordinance for cloth face coverings at the event Monday night.
The Assembly had previously voted to hold the ceremony on the condition a mask mandate be in place solely for the event, but decided to hold a separate vote on the mask issue. Assembly members voted 5-4 against the mask mandate, and thus the ceremony, in an ordinance which required six votes to pass.
Assembly members voting against the ceremony said it didn’t seem right to hold a large gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly when cases have been on the rise locally and nationally.
“I love the fireworks show, and I know people really want it,” said Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs at the meeting. “But thinking of the health conditions and safety of the community, in all of these decisions that have been hard to make, I have been guided by the science and the facts in front of me. And in following the science we are telling people to avoid large gatherings, so for me, it does not make sense.”
Mayor Beth Weldon was joined by Assembly members Wade Bryson, Rob Edwardson and Michelle Hale in voting in support of the ceremony. Deputy Mayor Maria Gladziszewski voted against the ordinance despite having previously voted in favor of the show, citing public health concerns as her reason for the change. But even with her additional vote, the ordinance would not have received the six needed to pass.
In a news release announcing the cancellation, CBJ apologized for any confusion caused by the votes.
“The Juneau Assembly last night voted against the emergency ordinance that authorized the Fourth of July fireworks show and mandated the use of face coverings during the fireworks show. Since the ordinance did not pass, the fireworks show will not occur. Again, there will be no Fourth of July fireworks in the channel the night of July 3 at 11:59 p.m.,” the release said.
It gets personal
The city isn’t putting on a fireworks show, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any fireworks this year. City ordinances allow the use of fireworks on July 3 and 4 from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., and last week Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced it had obtained state permits to sell personal fireworks.
Rules for fireworks can be found at the city’s website, but according to Capital City Fire/Rescue Chief Rich Etheridge, fireworks can be used almost anywhere during those times. Still, he said, people should go to unpopulated areas to shoot off their fireworks.
“We just ask that people be respectful of their neighbors,” he said.
The risk of brush fire is reduced this year because of heavy rainfall, but the risk is still there, Etheridge said. And while the city hasn’t had a lot of personal injuries over the years, people have lost fingers in the past he said, urging people to be cautious, particularly around crowds.
There are fines for fireworks violations, too, and in some extreme cases arrests can be made, said Juneau Police Department Lt. Karg Campbell.
“Disturbing the peace is arrestable offense under the state code,” Campbell said. “It’s $300 citation under city code. We like to give people warnings. We do have times when we have to come back.”
He said that is typically when a citation would be issued. A third trip could result in arrest, Campbell said, adding “that’s the last thing we want to do.”
The police are going to be very visible Friday and Saturday, Campbell said. They’ll be out on the lookout for drunken drivers and will be bringing on additional staff for the weekend. Campbell said one of the biggest issues JPD deals with after the holiday is trash, and asked fireworks users to clean up after themselves.
Both Campbell and Etheridge made the point that showing responsibility is beneficial to supporters of personal fireworks use. Negative public feedback could result in stricter future regulation, both said.
In addition to the fireworks being canceled, the annual downtown and Douglas parades were shuttered, but one man is determined to hold a parade, even if it means getting a ticket.
“I can’t do what I would normally do as a Shriner,” said Ray Rusaw, who’s organized a Fourth of July Parade route through the Mendenhall Valley. “The next alternative for me myself, I’m going to walk, and I will walk in the street and I probably will get cited yes.”
Rusaw said the Assembly’s decision to cancel the parade wasn’t justified by the numbers of COVID-19 cases in the community, so he intends to go forward with a parade even without a permit from the city.
“This pandemic has been going on for five months, with 44 cases recorded in Juneau, Rusaw said.
He would support canceling the parade as the city did at the time of the Spanish flu, he said but the current situation was far less severe.
“The numbers are not there,” he said.
So far, Rusaw said, the only people he could say will be joining him are members of the local American Legion Post and Veterans of Foreign Wars, but he couldn’t say how they would be joining him.
JPD has been in contact with Rusaw, Campbell said, and has explained that due to health concerns and traffic safety issues a permit would not be issued and provided legal alternatives.
“The route the individual was talking about had too many road closures,” Campbell said. “We did give the person some alternatives; if they had lines of (steet legal) cars, they could drive through certain areas.”
Rusaw has said he intends to walk the parade route, but can’t account for how others will participate. Members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars Color Guard are going to participate, Rusaw said, but, “they are elderly, and traditionally they ride in the back of truck standing up with their flags,” a citable offense.
Rusaw said he believes most people will ride in their cars and not violate any laws, but for himself and anyone who chooses to join him, it was important to walk the route.
Rusaw balked at the term “civil disobedience” to describe his action, equating the term with rioting and looting, but said he intends to make it known before the start of the parade that certain actions may lead to citations.
“I love our police department here in Juneau, I respect the police, I think it’s a gross misuse of their time and effort to enforce citations, I would rather have them standing alongside me.”
Blocking roads and impeding the flow of traffic are citable offenses, Campbell said, and potentially unsafe. If people want to participate, Campbell said, they should find a way to do so that doesn’t violate the law or endanger others.
“The person is really trying to do a parade without a permit, it’s kinda sad people are doing that, thinking, ‘if it’s a benefit to me, I’m not going to obey the law,’” Campbell said. “That’s not what the Fourth means to me.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.