Provincetown News and Information
By Donovan Slack | Boston Globe Staff
Certain things are just not to be messed with in Provincetown. There’s the right of drag queens to roller-skate through the center of town blowing kisses, the special New England brand of democracy known as Town Meeting, and the more-than-half-century tradition of July Fourth fireworks.
But the Provincetown Board of Selectmen messed with two of those things this week, prompting a backlash the size of which has not been seen for years in the tiny Cape Cod resort town. Citing safety concerns, the board voted to cancel this year’s Independence Day fireworks. And they did so despite a nearly unanimous Town Meeting vote to keep them.
‘’When you think of P-town, here’s a town that’s self-governed, very much a piece of traditional American democracy, supporting personal rights and fun,” said Michael Valenti, owner of White Wind Inn and a board member of the local business guild. ‘’We were totally blindsided. [July Fourth fireworks] are such a piece of Americana, such a tradition; for that to go away brings tears to my eyes.”
There’s even been talk of trying to remove some of the selectmen from office.
‘’For them to make that decision without any input from the town, it’s an outrage,” longtime resident Michelle Haynes lamented yesterday. ‘’It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Last year’s fireworks display ended with drunken brawls on Commercial Street, and town officials say there aren’t enough police officers to make sure it doesn’t happen again this year, or ambulances to respond if it does.
‘’It is a tiny town, and there’s just no way that we have the resources,” said Cheryl Andrews, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen.
In some ways, the town has come smack up against its capacity to handle its growing popularity, officials said, and canceling the fireworks is the price residents and business owners have to pay.
The town’s population already explodes from about 3,000 residents in the off season to between 30,000 to 60,000 during summer months.
But July Fourth events have been drawing more people in recent years, with last year’s crowd as large as 100,000, according to some reports.
Bars became overcrowded, and two were shut down. Thousands of revelers poured into the street in front of Town Hall after the fireworks.
The mayhem that ensued triggered a crackdown by police that left nearly 40 people in custody. There were also a half dozen drug overdoses that night and two major car accidents, and only four ambulances to serve Provincetown and Truro.
Town officials convened a committee to study how this year’s celebrations might be handled better.
Despite the logistics of coordinating safety personnel and vehicles for the event, residents voted at Town Meeting in November to keep the fireworks display.
But when the fire chief showed up at a Board of Selectman meeting Monday night and said he didn’t know whether the town could secure enough ambulances, the board voted unanimously to call off the fireworks.
Since last year’s mayhem, Andrews, the board chairwoman, has been very vocal about her opposition to keeping the display.
But she says that if she had Monday’s vote to do over again, she might have waited a few weeks to give residents a chance to voice their opinions before making the final decision.
‘’I know a lot of people are upset about this,” she said.
Andrews believes that a more reserved celebration is in order this year, perhaps a barbecue or a classic car show, something that attracts older spectators who might party more responsibly.
‘’Let’s just take a breather,” she said.
As it does in many small towns, news spread lightning fast in Provincetown.
By yesterday, many townspeople were up in arms.
‘’If public safety is an issue, then you get on the horn and say, ‘You better get on top of it.’ You don’t cancel,” said Valenti, who said Provincetown entrepreneurs railed against the decision at the local business guild meeting Thursday night.
‘’Are we really incapable of handling security for an American tradition that has happened in this town for 70 years?” he asked.
At Fanizzi’s by the Sea, a harborfront restaurant that patrons pack each Fourth of July, owner Paul Fanizzi said the board was ‘’crushing the summer” business.
‘’We pray for that money because it supports us throughout the year,” he said. ‘’Now, I guess I’ll just put in a big screen TV and watch [the fireworks] in Boston.”
Donovan Slack can be reached at .
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