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Alpena fireworks depend on Whitmer

ALPENA — The Fourth of July fireworks show in Alpena is a go, if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer relaxes bans on large gatherings that are in place currently to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

If she does not, the fireworks display could be rescheduled and launched during a different weekend this summer.

The Alpena Municipal Council voted 3-2 today to allow fireworks on Independence Day, as long as it doesn’t violate any state regulations. Whitmer today lifted her order that Michiganders stay home unless absolutely necessary, but crowds of more than 100 people remain prohibited.

The council’s move went against the advice of Police Chief Joel Jett and Fire Chief Bill Forbush. Councilman Mike Nowak and Mayor Pro Tempore Cindy Johnson voted no, while Mayor Matt Waligora, Councilwoman Amber Hess and Councilman Danny Mitchell voted yes.

Waligora said he believes the community showed its support for fireworks when it donated about $14,000 in less than a month to have them. Lafarge North America also pledged $12,000 to make the event happen, although the company is open to pushing the fireworks back until later in the year, if need be.

“Nobody really knows what will happen between now and then, but, right now, the state seems to be moving in a pretty good direction,” Waligora said. “The people wanted it on the Fourth of July and they supported it with their donations. They want fireworks on the Fourth of July, because it is the Fourth of July.”

Nowak and Johnson said many people in the community believe having the fireworks in July is too soon and fear for public health and the possible spread of COVID-19, as the event would likely attract thousands of people.

Before the vote Jett explained that, on a typical Fourth of July, his staff is all hands on deck, and other police departments in Alpena County come to town to help and can barely keep up. He said he believed the crowd this year could be bigger, which would put more strain on police and fire services and would create a public health risk with so many people coming to town from out of the area.

“If we are the only municipality having this event, it will bring people here like a moth to the flame,” he said. “We will have people coming from all around to see this, because everything else is canceled. We will be the event in Northeast Michigan, and we also get all that comes with it.”

Forbush said the fireworks contractor, which needed an answer by tonight, would allow the show to be shifted to other weekends that are open, including Labor Day weekend, If it is given enough notice.

If the city were to cancel at the last minute, it would likely lose the money it raised.

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