By Jim Newell
Fireworks over Lake Orion are on again after the Lake Orion Village Council unanimously approved a request during its June 8 meeting to allow a fireworks show on the Fourth of July.
However, this year the fireworks will be a “private” showing intended primarily for those who live on Lake Orion lake.
The Lake Orion Fireworks Association (LOFA) – which had previously canceled its dueling fireworks show – made the request to the village after a resident solicited funds via GoFundMe to save the fireworks.
The fireworks association had previously held fundraisers to help pay the costs of last year’s fireworks show. LOFA is sponsoring this year’s fireworks, which will be launched from the east side of the lake.
“Unfortunately, there isn’t anyone that hasn’t been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic but as our State reopens back up people are looking to return to a ‘new’ normal. We are looking for cooperation from the members of the community to ensure social distancing during the show. With help from Greg Rogers, who organized a Gofund Me (sic) campaign, the community rallied together to exceed our goal in raising enough funds to have a show this year,” wrote David Welch, LOFA president, in a request to the council.
However, there are concerns about the number of people who would attend.
Village Manager Joe Young said the village would not open Green’s Park for spectators, as it has done in previous years. Young also the village would not promote the show, hoping by not doing so it will draw fewer spectators.
Police Chief Harold Rossman said he has concerns about how many people will attend, construction on M-24, whether people will put chairs in the construction zone to watch the fireworks and gridlock before and after the fireworks show.
Rossman also said that he will have 16 officers on duty that night, but will be 10 officers short because some officers, including reserve officers, had already put in for vacation time after learning the fireworks were canceled.
“None of us have a crystal ball. All I can tell you is that if we have it, we’ll do our best to keep the public safe,” Rossman said.
Council President Ken Van Portfliet, who lives on Anderson Street and has a view of the lake, thanked Welch and Rogers for “taking on the endeavor.”
Van Portfliet also said he wants signage reminding people to keep six feet of social distance from one another, and asked if the Oakland County Sherriff’s Office would assist.
Rogers said that 80 percent, if not more, of the people who donated to the fireworks own property on the lake.
On June 4, Culver’s of Lake Orion held a fundraiser, donating 25 percent of its profits for the day to the fireworks, said Culver’s owner Joe Zimmer.
As of Monday afternoon, Rogers had raised $24,351 on the Save Lake Orion Fireworks GoFundMe page, far exceeding the $16,000 goal.
Councilmember John Ranville said he’s always supported the fireworks show, but was concerned about the number of spectators the show would draw and safety. “There’s no way you can have social distancing with that size of a crowd,” he said.
Councilmember Teresa Rutt said that GoFundMe campaigns are a community donation, not just people on the lake, and it’s “a little hard for those who donated and don’t live on the lake” to accept moving the show.
Council President Pro-tem Bradley Mathisen also had concerns. “I don’t know if I’m completely comfortable with this,” he said.
Councilmember Doug Hobbs asked how many surrounding communities are holding fireworks shows. Independence Township has a show planned for July 3, and Lake Orion is the only show that he knows of on July 4, Young said.
The city of Detroit has previously canceled its annual fireworks show but has since decided to go ahead with the show as strictly a televised event – people will not be allowed to congregate at public places to view the fireworks.
However, many are now touting the event as “private” even though the village had to grant approval and the Lake Orion Police Department will have an increased police presence during the show.
Councilmember Jerry Narsh said that since the fireworks association is putting on the show and moving the barge that launches the fireworks away from M-24 so the fireworks are not as visible by spectators, “It seems to be more of a lake event,” he said.
Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett joined Rogers at his home during the virtual council meeting to speak on behalf of the show. “We’re willing to assist in whatever way is needed,” Barnett said. “If this moves forward, it is a private show, funded by private individuals.”
He added that the township will not promote the fireworks in any way in an effort to curb attendance.
Much of Michigan’s lower peninsula – including Oakland County – is still in Phase 4 of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s five-phase plan to reopen the state after the pandemic.
From a June 5, 2020 press release from the state:
Under Phase 5, indoor social gatherings and organized events of up to 50 people are permissible. Outdoor social gatherings and organized events are also allowed if people maintain six feet of distance from one another and the gathering consists of no more than 250 people. In addition, outdoor performance and sporting venues will be open with a larger capacity limit of 500, which will allow for some outdoor graduation ceremonies.
The Lake Orion fireworks show typically draws thousands of spectators, on the water, the streets, parks and at homes. Council members pointed out that the Bellevue Street bridge alone had 200 spectators last year.
The Lake Orion Fireworks Association previously announced on its website that this year’s Fourth of July Dueling Fireworks show would be canceled.
“In light of the current Covid-19 Pandemic, it has been impossible to implement fundraising for the 2020 Dueling Fireworks Event. We regret that it is necessary to cancel this year’s event celebration. We hope to come back bigger and better in 2021!”
The Lake Orion Lions Club, which holds fireworks during its annual Jubilee, also canceled its fireworks show when it canceled the Jubilee.