It is an American tradition that draws hundreds to the St. Helens riverfront each summer but the future is uncertain for the Independence Day fireworks.
The St. Helens City Council has agreed to conduct the fireworks from Sand Island this summer but it will be for the last time. The council agreed during its regular public session April 21 to seek a nonprofit or other group to continue the popular waterfront event.
"We are doing the fireworks show this year and we are seeking anyone who wants to take it over," St. Helens Mayor Rick Scholl said. "We are backing out and looking for anyone who wants it."
The council agreed that it was too costly and time consuming to continue the city's role as sponsor of the fireworks.
"The city can't do it with taxpayer money," Scholl said. "We can't drag our feet on this. We need to make a decision."
Scholl suggested that the city put up a $2,000 donation to any nonprofit that wanted to take over the event.
"If someone were to take it over today, they could start raising the money needed for next year ahead of schedule, that why it's important to not set them up for failure and get them started right now because the funding needs to be there," he said.
But city council president Doug Morten cautioned that the council should not attach a specific donation.
"We'll continue to support the effort the best way we can," Morten said.
The Fourth of July fireworks show was postponed last year due to the restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty of timelines. The city council considered moving the display to December during the Christmas Ships event, but did not move forward with that plan.
Last year wasn’t the only year fireworks have been absent from St. Helens during Independence Day celebrations. In 2012, a city fireworks committee was unable to raise the $20,000 needed to host the display— which has typically been funded entirely through donations and sponsorships.
Scholl earlier this year had suggested hosting a tailgate party at the city's waterfront, estimating that 500 cars, each paying a $20 admission fee, could raise enough money for a reasonable firework show.
To cut costs, Scholl suggested the show be held on the city-side of the water instead of on a barge or on Sand Island.
On Friday, March 5, city spokesperson Crystal King told The Chronicle that the fireworks demonstration would depend on current Oregon Health Authority pandemic safety requirements in place at the time of the event.
"We are not abandoning the fireworks but we will not be the sponsor," Councilor Patrick Birkle said. "If we don't have someone raising the funds by next April, the city is not going to step in and rescue the event. We truly want the community to take ownership of this event through a smooth transfer. We are done at the level we have been with this event the last few years."
The council rejected a suggestion from Councilor Stephen Topaz that the city issue an RFP (Request for Proposal) to attract a group to take over the fireworks operations.
Instead, the council has directed city staff to put out information that the city is looking for a nonprofit or other group to take charge of the event.
"We could help in some way," Morten said. "We could be a partner in some way with three or four other organizations but as it is now, we have the entire burden of doing this. I don't want to put out an RFP to facilitate our involvement with it."
Morten agreed that the city should issue a communication to the community.
"Keep in mind it isn't a door closed and we can always advocate and help out in any way we can," Morten said. "That is what our council is here for to be flexible."
Any group that wishes to consider taking over the Independence Day fireworks in St. Helens is encouraged to call the City of St. Helens at 503-397-6272.