By John Burton
While some communities in the two river area have decided to forego their Independence Day/Summer traditional fireworks, do not fear; there will be opportunities to see shells bursting in the skies above Monmouth County.
Long Branch, Atlantic Highlands and Asbury Park are all committed to continuing their traditional holiday shows this year.
“We do expect a big crowd and we’re preparing for it,” Atlantic Highlands Borough Administrator Adam Hubeny said.
Atlantic Highlands is holding its fireworks on the Friday following July 4 – which this year is July 6 – to avoid competing with other displays slated on July 3 or 4.
The display is done in conjunction with the community’s annual Fireman’s Fair. The approximate $10,000 cost of the display was paid for by the municipal Harbor Commission, but during the last few years the “Buy a Rocket” campaign has raised money to expand the display, doubling it to $20,000 last year, Hubeny said.
Between the fireworks and the accompanying fair, the town has attracted 5,000 to 7,000 spectators.
“To be honest with you, we’re expecting double that,” this year, Hubeny said.
Officials have been seeking some additional offsite parking locations to help address the larger crowd’s needs.
“The chief [of police] has already talked about possibly paying for additional out-of-town officers,” Hubeny said.
The additional considerations this year are due to Red Bank, Rumson and Sea Bright’s canceling their usual displays.
Red Bank has become the site of largest fireworks display in the state, going off on July 3. When organizers announced plans in February to cancel, that caused Rumson, whose show was done in coordination with Red Bank’s, to abandon its plans, as well. Rumson officials felt the borough could not handle the cost and were concerned the town would bear the brunt of the large numbers that usually attends the Red Bank display.
With those two out of the picture, Sea Bright officials were worried it would have the throngs of people pouring in for its July 4 display. Police Chief John Sorrentino requested help from county law enforcement and neighboring communities, but was unable to secure additional officers in the tight timeframe. And given security concerns, officials thought better to err on the side of caution, pulling the plug and concentrating efforts on next year.
One reason it was difficult for Sorrentino to recruit additional manpower, is because the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department and some surrounding towns have allocated resources to Long Branch for its daylong event which culminates in its fireworks.
Long Branch’s Oceanfest, which includes the fireworks, held on July 4, is sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce.
“The evenings have always had big crowds and been relatively non-eventful,” with police and emergency management personnel able to control the situation, said Howard Woolley, Long Branch city manager.
“We’re taking into account we’ll have more people,” this year, Woolley said. “But our guys are extremely able to handle it.”
Hubeny and Woolley both acknowledged that it will be “all hands on deck” for the show.
In Atlantic Highlands all police are obliged, by contract to work that day, Hubeny said. Woolley noted there is sufficient support, with police, fire, EMS and police explorers. “We’re pretty optimistic that it’s going to work out,” Woolley said.
Oceanfest and the fireworks in the past has attracted upward of 200,000, with the city paying $70,000 for police, public works, fire and other employee overtime, Woolley said. “And it usually works out to be a pretty good event.”
Asbury Park is planning to have its fireworks show on the Fourth of July. But it wasn’t always on that day, said Tom Gilmour, the executive director of the city’s Department of Commerce and Economic Development. “We used to be the orphan fireworks” scheduling them “on a day when nobody else was doing it.”
About five years ago, officials decided to have it on Independence Day and “it clicked,” he said.
“We’re definitely committed,” to having them again this year on the beach. He estimated the crowd to be about 20,000 to 25,000 people.
Gilmour said plans for this year’s show still have to be finalized. His office has been preoccupied planning for the city’s upcoming Bamboozle music festival, which he described as possibly the city’s largest event ever.
“We really have a very sophisticated traffic management plan and also security plan here,” he said.
“The fact that other towns have canceled their plans I do suspect we will get some additional police here,” for the event, Gilmour said, conceding that conversation will have to wait for right now.
Other opportunities to see fireworks in the county this summer include July 25 during the first evening of the 38th annual Monmouth County Fair, held at East Freehold Park, and during Colts Neck’s community fair, which will be June 29-30.