Westport PAL is taking heat for something it’s done well for decades: organizing one of our town’s hottest shows of the year, the 4th of July fireworks.
Of course, they’ve never been on July 4th. We celebrate Independence Day on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 5th, with Westport’s biggest party of the year. Besides fireworks, we enjoy picnics, barbecues, bands, and tons of fun.
This year — for a variety of reasons — the big day is June 30. When they heard that, a few Westporters exploded.
The main complaints are that the event is scheduled on a workday — June 30 is a Thursday — and that folks have to work the next day (Friday, July 1). A secondary issue is that June 30 is several days before the 4th, lessening the holiday’s importance.
The date was picked almost a year ago, says Westport PAL president Ned Batlin. With a limited number of barges, barge crews, and fireworks companies available, not every town can schedule its fireworks on the same date.
For as long as they can remember, Batlin and Police Chief Foti Koskinas say, the fireworks have been held on a weekday (including Friday). At 4 p.m. the beach is cleared; then, people who have purchased tickets ($35 per car — a price that has remained constant for years) are allowed in.
It would be very difficult to clear the beach on a holiday weekend — both because of sheer numbers, and because some of those visitors would have paid for an expensive weekend day pass.
In addition, Batlin explains, for financial reasons it’s best for the rain date to be the day after the originally scheduled fireworks. A few years ago rain pushed the fireworks to July 5. Many people complained that it came after the holiday.
For the past few years, Batlin notes, July 4 came close to a weekend, so many people did not have to work the day after the fireworks. This year, July 4 is a Monday.
“We know not everyone can take this Friday off, but some people can,” says Koskinas. “Knowing that some people will have a 4-day weekend, we opted for Thursday so we could have Friday as a rain date.”
The fireworks are PAL’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Proceeds help fund programs that serve thousands of youngsters, and 30 college scholarships.
The fireworks draw 12,000 people to Compo Beach. “We’re well aware we can’t please everyone,” Koskinas says. “Whether it’s the date, the weather, the traffic going to the beach or leaving, someone will be unhappy.
“We strive to please everyone. But we realize that’s not possible.”
Koskinas concludes, “Every year we hope the weather cooperates, that everyone has a good time, and is patient. And every year we hope the fireworks are better than the year before.”