By Lucas Vader
At the June 2 Delta City Council meeting, the council had a discussion on the prospects of the annual 4th of July fireworks show at Confluence Park, but the decision was ultimately delayed until a special meeting, which will take place Tuesday, June 9.
For nearly an hour, members of council and city staff laid out the pros and cons of proceeding with the fireworks show in a normal fashion. As Delta Police Chief Luke Fedler came before council to recommend canceling the show, others, including Mayor Nathan Clay, spoke out in defense of the annual event.
During the discussion, it came to council’s attention that another group is planning an alternate fireworks display to ensure that Delta County has one.
This alternate show will allegedly take place in Eckert in the area of Antelope Hill and Fruitgrowers Mesa, and it will be held by the Cedaredge Fire District. The prospect of the Antelope Hill location was an aspect that stirred much conversation on the subject of Delta’s traditional show. Members of council speculated that this show would mean that people would be gathering in large crowds whether or not Delta holds its show.
As for safety concerns on a drier hill — as opposed to a show over the lake — Delta Fire District Manager Shannon Crespin said that the Cedaredge Fire District chief, Steve Hanson, has already inspected the area and deemed it to be safe.
According to Fedler, when he voiced his opposition to the fireworks show, Independence Day already involves over a thousand people gathering in one location, which is a negative from the perspective of the coronavirus.
“If we bring all these people in, the chance of us getting a spike in COVID goes way up,” Fedler said. “You throw my officers in the middle of that and I get an officer that gets exposed to COVID for this and he exposes the police department, you could potentially shut down the police department. Then what do you do?”
Fedler said when everything originally shut down, the city had a necessity for officers to be out in public to do their jobs, while the fireworks show is only something people want. “This is something we don’t have to do,” he said. “I understand that people want to do this, believe me. I’m born and raised in Delta. I want to do it, too, but I have serious concerns about this happening.”
Additionally, Fedler voiced his concern that the City of Delta and potentially the county could lose state funding if they were to go against social-distancing orders set in place by Gov. Jared Polis.
Though Fedler ultimately recommended against the show to the Delta City Council, he also assured them they would have the Delta Police Department’s full support if they do decide to move forward with the show.
“If you guys choose to do it down there, I understand,” Fedler said. “I will do the best I can, but I promise you we are not going to enforce social distancing. That is shoulder-to-shoulder people down there on a regular year.”
City Clerk Jolene Nelson told council about a story from ABC News which reported 21,000 new cases of COVID-19 that were attributed to the first day of the George Floyd riots, which would indicate that a crowd that could easily be composed of over a thousand people would provide a serious threat.
Clay overall spoke in favor of putting on some sort of show. While admitting that it was a desire instead of a necessity, he held onto the notion that Delta needed to lead the county, particularly since the show in the area of Antelope Hill and Fruitgrowers Mesa.
“Nobody is going to stay that far away,” Clay said. “They are going to go to N Road and sit on Fruitgrowers Mesa and they’re going to clog that area. I have been reliably told that it’s going to happen regardless.”
Clay also pulled the City of Delta’s phrase, “Fiercely Colorado,” into the discussion, stating the phrase needed to hold truth to it.
“We call ourselves fiercely Colorado,” Clay said. “We talk about being very independent thinking and I believe that we are. I will never say that we aren’t because we are. This is the nature of our community. We would be going against governor’s orders.” Clay said he’d spoken to Rep. Matt Soper earlier and was advised that pulling funds that were already dispersed in Delta County would be a difficult and unlikely move from Polis.
“He said that the idea of the governor trying to claw back funds from us would be really disastrous and he’s right, politically speaking,” Clay said. “He would be really hard pressed to try and come to a rural town, Colorado and try and say ‘You give us back our money now’ or ‘We’re not going to give you money.’ I don’t see that being an issue either.”
Already at this time, surrounding areas including Montrose, Ouray and Grand Junction have canceled their fireworks shows for 2020. Interim City Manager Wilma Erven said before council that, if the fireworks aren’t canceled, this fact could mean a greater influx of people from other counties on the evening of Independence Day. Therefore, a large crowd will be present at one time at the edge of Confluence Lake.
Fedler shared this concern, as he told council that Independence Day was already the police department’s busiest day of the year with normal circumstances. He referred to the day as “controlled chaos.”
“I have serious concerns that this year may not be controlled chaos,” Fedler said.
The Delta Fire District needs to order the show for insurance purposes by June 12, meaning council will need to make a definite decision by that point. Crespin strongly advised against postponing the show until later in the year, as the turnout of a reschedule has gone badly in the past, and the already-purchased fireworks can be used next year.
The Delta City Council tabled any decision on the matter until the June 9 special meeting, at which point it will make a final call on whether or not the Fourth of July fireworks at Confluence Park are canceled and further details on the event if it is to happen.