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Fireworks light up the sky over Sea Isle City during the 2017 Fourth of July celebration. (Photo courtesy of Flickr)

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Sea Isle City officials expressed their regrets Tuesday over the cancellation of the Fourth of July fireworks display and other family-friendly entertainment this summer, but said it would simply be too difficult to maintain social distancing for the large crowds attending the events. 

The city announced last week that it would cancel the Fourth of July weekend activities, including Family Night at Excursion Park on July 3, the Junior Olympics competition at Dealy Field on the morning of July 4, and the annual holiday fireworks show amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

A decision was also made to cancel all of the Saturday Night Concerts at the Band Shell in Excursion Park as well as the Family Fun Nights on Monday evenings and the Baby Parade on July 14. 

“I totally understand that this is very disappointing for many people who enjoy these special events and programs,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said during the City Council meeting Tuesday. “However, the most important service we provide is public safety, and with the large crowds these activities attract, it is simply not reasonable to expect that we can let them take place and practice social distancing at the same time – which is so important for everyone’s health and safety.” 

One Sea Isle resident, Anne Organ, urged city officials during the meeting, which was held by teleconference, to consider ways to save the fireworks display. 

“I just wanted to say that my family is really disappointed about the fireworks and now they’re talking about not coming. I was just wondering if there was some way you could have them,” Organ said of the fireworks. 

Councilwoman Mary Tighe said she had heard similar complaints from other people about the fireworks being canceled. 

“They’re disappointed, and I know I am too because I love the fireworks,” Tighe said. 

Although the beaches would provide enough room for social distancing during the fireworks, big crowds also gather on the Promenade and downtown to watch the show.

Organ wondered whether spectators could simply spread out along Sea Isle’s beaches to observe social distancing while watching the fireworks. 

Tighe agreed that the fireworks display might be possible if the crowds were limited to the beaches. However, she noted that large crowds traditionally congregate in other parts of town to view the fireworks, making social distancing difficult, if not impossible.

“There’s really plenty of room to spread out on the beach. It’s really that downtown area that gets so congested when the fireworks go off that we would not be able to manage social distancing in that area,” Tighe said. 

She added that Excursion Park and the Promenade, also known as the boardwalk, are areas that historically draw large crowds downtown for the fireworks. 

“Excursion Park is packed (and) you can’t even move on the boardwalk,” Tighe said. 

“And everybody right now is sort of feeling, ‘Oh, I don’t need a mask when I’m outside.’ It would just be a significant risk,” she continued. 

Tighe has been involved with the Cape May County Health Department’s safety protocols and public response during the coronavirus outbreak. In her full-time job, she serves as the county’s assistant director of Public Health Nursing. 

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman William Kehner was appointed to serve as president of the governing body for the next 12 months.  

Council members select their president, a post traditionally held for one year. The president conducts the meetings, oversees the agenda and acts as chief spokesperson for Council. 

Newly appointed Council President William Kehner, right, is joined by Mayor Leonard Desiderio during their Election Night victory in 2019.

Kehner, currently in his fourth term on Council, has previously served as president. Prior to joining Council in 2007, he had served on Sea Isle’s former city commission style of government from 1977 to 1981. 

In the past year, Councilman J.B. Feeley had served as president, guiding Council through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic in recent months. 

“I’d like to take this moment to congratulate J.B. Feeley on the excellent job he did as Council president under an unprecedented and challenging time,” Councilman Jack Gibson said. 

Feeley thanked Gibson for his words.