State rules put Grand Lake’s Fourth of July fireworks in peril
Grand Lake has held out longer than most, but a new state directive seems likely to curb the town’s Fourth of July fireworks show whether elected leaders like it or not.
Released Thursday, the state’s seventh amended public health order covers Fourth of July fireworks displays in Colorado with certain precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Carried forward locally by Grand County Public Health, one of the new rules would keep viewers inside their vehicles, a potential death knell for the town’s fireworks because officials have said any real enforcement of social distancing measures is highly unlikely.
Over the last couple months, the Grand Lake Board of Trustees has repeatedly talked about canceling the Fourth of July fireworks due to COVID-19, but the board has been reluctant to do so. The small resort town is no stranger to large crowds over the summer, and coronavirus fears have weighed heavily on many local minds. However, so too have the economic smacks suffered by local businesses during the closures.
The possibility of canceling the Fourth of July fireworks came before the board in May, when a recent survey showed support for keeping the show. At the time, Grand Lake Mayor Steve Kudron spoke of how going through with it could send a important message across the community.
“I’m confident we’re going to have people here regardless, but I think that our town truly has shared how important it is for us to say, ‘We’re ready to be open,’” Kudron said before a proposal to cancel died without a motion.
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On June 6, the discussion continued as mounting worries led the trustees to a vote. Though they again decided to keep to Grand Lake’s fireworks plans intact, it showed some movement on the board, as the proposal that couldn’t get a motion failed in a split decision this time.
Now, Grand Lake has been given a directive: Enforce social distancing protocols — that means keeping people inside their cars and ensuring that the vehicles are parked spaced at least 6 feet apart — or risk running afoul state and local public health orders.
Based on Gov. Jared Polis’ Safer at Home guidelines, the county’s health department has forbidden most gatherings larger than 10 people. The state recently granted Grand County a variance from some of the provisions, but Fourth of July fireworks are not among them.
In addition to the possibility of fines up to $5,000 and potential jail time for violators, county officials worry about a fireworks show that spikes local COVID-19 cases and costs Grand County its state-granted variance that’s allowing gyms, places of worship and lodging to operate under eased restrictions. The variance will be rescinded if the county surpasses a specific number of cases over a given time period.
“If (Grand Lake) is one of the only places that has fireworks, we’re going to see so many people come here,” said Schelly Olson, a spokesperson for the county’s COVID-19 response team, noting that most other fireworks shows in the state have been called off.
Officials also fear COVID-19 relief funding could be at risk if Grand County’s towns openly flout public health orders.
“What we’re concerned about as a county right now is there’s so much of that CARES Act funding and stuff like that coming through the state, and they’ve been very clear in every one of their public health orders that any county that doesn’t obey public health orders may be losing funding,” said Brad White, incident commander for the COVID-19 response team.
He referenced the $1.3 million the county has already secured in CARES Act, along with other relief funds that he thinks could make their way to Grand County businesses.
“We don’t want to show the state we don’t care about their rules because that in turn tells them that we don’t care about their money,” White said.
Over the phone Friday, Grand Lake Town Manager John Crone was sure Grand Lake won’t be able to enforce the new requirements and keep people inside their cars for a fireworks show.
No decision on the fireworks is expected before the Grand Lake Board of Trustees meets at 6 p.m. Monday. The regularly scheduled meeting will be after a workshop. For more, go to http://www.TownOfGrandLake.com and click on “Agendas and Minutes.”
On Friday, the online agenda packet contained excerpts from a draft letter the county sent Grand Lake asking the board to cancel the fireworks. Crone and county officials said the packet was put together before the state released its latest guidelines, and the letter has been updated to reflect a focus on enforcement of the state’s newest regulations.
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