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East Countys Fourth of July fireworks fizzle

Metro reportedly says it can't take over summer event
by: File photo Fireworks might not be seen over Blue Lake Park in 2012.

Barring new sponsors and organizers, the Fourth of July celebration at Blue Lake Regional Park, which draws thousands each year, will not take place in 2012.

Unable to get enough folks to organize and staff the event, sponsors - including The Gresham Outlook - say they won't be able to put on the music, picnic and fireworks party next year.

Mark Garber, publisher, noted The Outlook could no longer work the festival.

'The newspaper started the festival in 2000 but decided that we could no longer allocate the staff time necessary to keep the event going,' he said.

Garber added that when the festival started 'there was a good core of volunteer committee members who planned the festival, but increasingly in recent years that group had dwindled to just a few individuals.'

A nonprofit organization, the East County Fireworks Group, ran the festival each year. The festival also received help for years from the Yoshida Group, which provided seed money to keep the festival going until it was ready to stand on its own, Garber added.

The festival group's finances are in good order, Garber said, but The Outlook needed to scale back its involvement.

'Our company, like just about all other companies, has had to reduce its labor force over the past three to four years,' he said. 'We just didn't think we could carry the load and asked Metro if it wanted to take over the festival.'

Garber said Metro officials had informed him, however, they cannot take over the event, citing, in part, its expense, an estimated $20,000 in sanitation, lights, signage, overtime and other expenses.

'The East County Fireworks Group certainly appreciates what Metro has done over the years to support the festival,' Garber said. 'We recognize that Metro has incurred extra expenses for the festival's use of the park. Also, other agencies, including the city of Fairview and Gresham Fire and Emergency Services, were exceptionally helpful each year. Plus, the event never would have gotten off the ground without Junki Yoshida and the Yoshida Group.'

The East County Fireworks Group had a festival budget of $10,000 to $12,000 each year, which covered the cost of fireworks and music, Garber said. Also, The Outlook would pay for food to serve police, firefighters and volunteers who staffed the festival.

In addition to the direct costs of the festival, Metro and the city of Fairview also incurred costs for extra labor and equipment.

'Because of the support we received from public agencies, the festival has been relatively inexpensive for the East County Fireworks Group to run,' Garber said. 'We never had a year when our group's expenses exceeded the money we had available through either sponsorship, admissions or carry-over.'

In fact, the festival group has more than $5,000 in reserves, he said.

'If some other entity wanted to jump in and continue the festival, and assuming that Metro was still willing to incur its additional costs, it would be relatively easy to get it organized again,' Garber said.

Fairview chipped in $500 for last year's event, according to Joseph Gall, city administrator, who added his city enjoyed the additional business the festival brought in.

'It'll be strange not to have it,' he said.

On the other hand, one person who is 'relieved' he won't have to work the event is Fairview Police Chief Ken Johnson.

The event required his entire department's manpower, he noted, adding that while Gresham and Troutdale police departments provided some additional manpower, the event stretched his department to its limit.

It takes 15 people alone just to man traffic control positions, he said, noting that's more than his whole police department. Keeping on an eye on potential troublemakers, for example, gang members, has always taxed his force, Johnson said.

'We've been very concerned that it has the potential to be a powder keg,' he said.