OSCODA – Although the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be loosening its grip, the effects are still being felt, as evident during the Monday meeting of the Oscoda Township Board of Trustees.

While the Robert J. Parks Library and township hall buildings reopened to the public that day – with restrictions – the board meeting was still held online, rather than in person.

Additionally, officials were presented with three potential options for this year’s Independence Day fireworks show – postpone until later date, such as Labor Day; proceed with the display as usual; or hold off until Fourth of July 2021.

Trustees intend to finalize the decision at their next regular meeting on Monday, June 22.

In an e-mail from AuSable Township Superintendent Leisa Sutton, she wrote that board of trustees members discussed the fireworks display at their June 1 meeting.

“The consensus is that they feel that it is not prudent to host a large gathering at this time. The AuSable Township Board of Trustees ask that the Independence Day Fireworks not be pursued this year,” she stated in her memo, addressed to Oscoda Township Superintendent Dave Schaeffer, and Supervisor Aaron Weed.

“There is interest if there is an option for a later date such as Labor Day or postponement until 2021,” Sutton advised.

Schaeffer told Oscoda officials that the Governor’s Executive Orders (EO) for COVID-19 have been changing rapidly. And, more recently, there’s simply a different tone as far as a plan and specificity when it comes to moving through the different stages of the Michigan Safe Start Plan.

He said he has spoken with the township’s fireworks vendor, Bruce Tyree, who owns Great Lakes Fireworks in West Branch.

According to Schaeffer, Tyree is aware of the three aforementioned options being considered by local officials, and postponing displays until next year’s Independence Day celebrations is something that Great Lakes Fireworks is experiencing with numerous municipalities.

Should Oscoda take this route, Schaeffer said the township could essentially roll its $5,000 deposit to 2021 for the Fourth of the July show.

As for proceeding this year per usual, he noted that social distancing signs could be posted and the display could still take place on July 4.

He added that Tyree understands, with a board vote to be  held on June 22, that there isn’t much time to prepare. However, Tyree also knows that this is a fluid situation, considering the EOs and the Safe Start Plan stages.

Trustee Jim Baier remarked that the vendor is very understanding in letting the township wait to make a decision.

He also referred to AuSable Township officials having given consensus that they would rather not have the show this year. If Oscoda decides to move forward anyway, he wondered whether AuSable will still contribute financially to the fireworks.

Baier said he believes that the neighboring township pitches in either a third or a quarter of the price for the fireworks.

Schaeffer said those from Oscoda Township can reach out to Sutton directly, for clarification on this.

Trustee Timothy Cummings noted that June 22 is something driven by the governor’s EOs, and he agreed it is fortunate that Great Lakes Fireworks is willing to wait so long to hear the board’s decision. 

“I think, in my mind, I’m kind of just waiting for the Governor’s decision,” he commented, adding that he would not want to cancel the show if it is something the communities could do and it is permitted by the Governor. “But, if the Governor says that we can’t and shouldn’t, then I think our hands are tied at that point.”

Baier agreed, and said that not only is the fireworks vendor giving the township a surprising amount of time to decide, but Tyree is also willing to take care of the display at a later date or transfer the deposit to next year. “I think we have pretty good options there.”

Clerk John Nordeen echoed the points made by Cummings and Baier, and said he wants to give the communities every opportunity to have the fireworks this year.

If things are able move forward, but without the contribution from AuSable, he said that there has been a history of fundraising for the displays.

Nordeen said he was just thinking out loud, but if the public wants to see fireworks this year and are passionate about it, he wondered whether the Friends of the Fireworks group would reengage this initiative.

In addition to the unknowns surrounding the July 4 display for 2020, another example of things not quite being back to business as usual is the board meetings.

The Monday meeting was conducted virtually, but based on EO 2020-75 – which is still in effect – Schaeffer said the next in-person board meeting, at this point, will be Monday, June 22.

However, “There is still a requirement for the public to participate in the meeting electronically,” he stated. “The township cannot restrict attendance but must adhere to no more than 10 in a building.”

As officials have pointed out, there are already seven board members plus Schaeffer who attend the gatherings, along with those from miCTV, which records and broadcasts the meetings.

As for the reopening of the Robert J. Parks Library on June 8, this was done in accordance with the previously approved 30-day restrictions, as reported. (See separate story for more details on the recent reopening).