TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — Seven weeks out from Independence Day, Tybee Island city council members have voted unanimously to cancel this year’s Fourth of July fireworks display.
Mayor Shirley Sessions says the decision was partly due to the influx of Tybee visitors they anticipated if surrounding cities canceled their Independence Day events and Tybee did not.
At the time of the virtual city council meeting on May 14, Tybee’s leaders were still awaiting word on what the City of Savannah planned to do for their event.
“If other communities decided to cancel their fireworks, then we knew that people would be descending on Tybee,” Sessions told WSAV News 3.
That potential rise in Tybee traffic could pose safety problems, according to Tybee city manager Shawn Gillen.
“There’s a real immediate danger that maybe a lot of people don’t realize that goes along with having a fireworks show on Tybee when there isn’t any other one anywhere else,” Gillen said.
As an example of just how bad the traffic can get, he cited past experiences of hosting the fireworks event on July 3.
“They saw a whole lot more people come onto the island, and they created a traffic gridlock on the island,” Gillen said, adding that some travelers struggled to leave Tybee until 2 a.m.
“From our perspective, when we’re dealing with the police, fire and all of the life safety issues, if [Highway 80] gets jammed up and someone has a medical emergency, we’re in serious trouble,” he added.
Another factor considered during Thursday’s meeting was the hard time the Tybee Island Police Department would have with enforcing social distancing among the crowds.
Gerald Schantz, Tybee resident and owner of Gerald’s Pig and Shrimp, tells WSAV News 3 that he agrees with the city council’s choice.
“With all of the other surrounding towns and probably Savannah canceling theirs, the island would be overwhelmed, so it’s a safety issue,” he said.
While individuals might want to set off their own fireworks on Tybee for the Fourth of July weekend, Gillen says they still have to abide by Georgia and Tybee’s laws and ordinances.
“They can’t violate the noise ordinance with their fireworks,” Gillen said, who adds that the fireworks have to remain on private property.
“It cannot be in a public space, so if it’s gonna be in a park or somewhere else, it has to have a state permit, so they can’t do it there,” he said.
“They certainly can’t do it on the beach, and most of the short-term rentals that I know of have clauses in their rental agreements where fireworks are not allowed on the property,” he added.
Council members decided to cancel rather than postpone, Sessions said, because it wouldn’t be fair to attempt to reschedule when city council members weren’t sure when setting a new date was possible.
Instead, they have their fingers crossed for better luck hosting the event in 2021.
“Next year will be bigger and better, we’ll make it extra special,” Sessions said.
Tybee city council members plan to use the money saved from nixing the fireworks event to assist local small businesses.