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Fourth of July fireworks back after Covid-19 hiatus – just not everywhere

Fourth of July fireworks back after Covid-19 hiatus – just not everywhere

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The long Fourth of July weekend will go off with a bright burst of pyrotechnics in the skies over much of Buffalo Niagara, but some residents will have to wait another year for fireworks to return.

After the pandemic canceled fireworks throughout the region last July, local officials and organizations scrambled to plan shows this year once the state eased restrictions on large, outdoor gatherings.

The City of Tonawanda, the Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino in Niagara Falls, Olcott, Lancaster and numerous others have scheduled fireworks displays between Friday and Monday.

Not everyone is putting on a show this weekend. Many venues that typically host large displays, such as Canalside and Sahlen Field in downtown Buffalo and the University at Buffalo in Amherst, aren't doing so in 2021, citing logistical hurdles among other reasons.

The communities that are setting off fireworks say they're celebrating both the nation's founding and the continuing emergence from the Covid-19 crisis.

"People are just enthusiastic about this," said Councilman Carl Szarek of the Town of Tonawanda, which is renewing its annual fireworks at Kenney Field with food trucks and a concert by the American Legion Band of the Tonawandas. "They want to get out."

The vast majority of communities canceled their fireworks displays in 2020, as the region was just coming out of the initial wave of the pandemic and public health officials were months away from beginning to distribute Covid-19 vaccines to the general public.

A handful of venues did go through with their fireworks, though they feared overcrowding and urged the public to watch from their vehicles if possible.

This year, public-health restrictions that remained in place through the spring drove many organizers to again cancel summertime festivals. The governments and organizations that put on Independence Day fireworks displays faced the same planning conundrum and many already had scuttled their Memorial Day parades.

However, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in mid-June announced that, because the state had reached the 70% vaccination threshold, he was lifting nearly all remaining Covid-19 restrictions, including those that limited how many could attend big, public events.

This set off a race for communities and organizations to make plans with fireworks companies to put on their shows. Some said they couldn't make it work.

Serving as the City of Buffalo’s official fireworks, the show at Canalside draws a huge crowd of spectators on and off shore along the Inner and Outer Harbor.

The display was canceled last year and, as winter gave way to spring, organizers weren’t planning to hold it this year, either, because of Covid-19 concerns, said Pamm Lent, an Empire State Development spokeswoman.

By the time the restrictions were lifted, Lent said, it was too late to make arrangements to hold the show.

The Buffalo Bisons traditionally play at home on Independence Eve, with the game followed by a concert by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and fireworks to cap off the night.

This year, the Bisons are playing home games in Trenton, N.J., while the Toronto Blue Jays have taken over Sahlen Field. Asked whether the Bisons tried to arrange for fireworks after Toronto’s Friday night game in Buffalo, a spokesman referred a reporter to the Blue Jays, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Orchard Park was awaiting permission to put on its fireworks again this year, a town official told the Orchard Park Sun. By late June, after never hearing either way from state officials, the town canceled the show.

“It’s not fair to the company that would be doing the fireworks to keep them out there,” Councilman Eugene Majchrzak said. “This gives them an opportunity to find another home for the fireworks that they were going to do here.”

The Town of Amherst for nearly 20 years had held its fireworks show on UB’s North Campus at Baird Point. The show did not go on in 2020, nor will it happen this year, and Amherst Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa said this was UB’s call.

UB spokesman John Della Contrada said the university made the decision after the 2019 fireworks show, and before the pandemic, to end its agreement with the town. UB officials concluded the show, which annually drew tens of thousands of people to the campus, had become too large to safely host, Della Contrada said.

"With heightened concern around large-scale events, especially on national holidays, the need for increased security measures is greater than what can be maintained by the university," UB said at the time.

It's not clear what the future holds for fireworks in Amherst. Kulpa said this week the town lacks a central location with ample parking and easy road access to and from the site for the crowd.

"I don't have a place to hold that many people," Kulpa said.

The show will go on at numerous other sites, however, including a display setting off Sunday night from the Buffalo Bills' Highmark Stadium, sponsored by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York.

The Town of Tonawanda is holding its fireworks show on Friday because it's easier than a weekend or holiday to schedule the police officers and Youth, Parks and Recreation employees who assist with the event, Szarek said. He said the town initially planned to limit the crowds or have designated seating areas but, with restrictions lifted, it simply will encourage social distancing.

The City of Tonawanda is bringing back its display at Niawanda Park on Monday, Mayor Rick Davis said, because that date was more convenient than Saturday or Sunday for its fireworks company.

Another change this year is the pyrotechnics will go off from the foot of Gibson Street, instead of from Tonawanda Island, because the city didn't have enough time to get permission to use the island as the staging area. State environmental regulators must review and approve a request to use the island each year because it is near a common tern breeding area in the Niagara River, Davis said.

Still, Davis said he's glad the city's Plan B worked out and Tonawanda can do its part, following the difficult past 15 months, in "bringing these yearly traditions back."

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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