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Events Back On In The Keys, Starting With The Fourth Of July

Kristen Livengood takes part in the Underwater Music Festival in 2019. This year the event is planned for July 10 and 11.
Bob Care
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

As a tourist destination, the Keys rely on events to bring people to the island chain. But large gatherings are discouraged during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Key West City Commission this week gave the go-ahead to an event that usually draws large crowds to the island's Atlantic shore: Fourth of July fireworks.

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Key West City Manager Greg Veliz brought the application from the Rotary Club of Key West to the commission at its Tuesday evening meeting.

"Basically I wasn't going to be the one that canceled Fourth of July," Veliz said.

The club has been setting off the fireworks from the pier at the end of White Street for 45 years. 

"We're trying to keep it alive as long as we can," James Olive told commissioners. "And if it becomes evident that we can't, we won't."

Commissioners were worried about the crowds that usually come to the beach closest to where the fireworks are set off. Olive said the Rotary Club is working with the Key West Police Department and will try to spread the crowds out.

Veliz says this will be a first step for Key West — and that living in the new normal comes down to personal responsibility.

"We can impose different rules for different closed-in locations but at some point people are going to have to take responsibility for their actions," he said. "The ability to social distance is there. There's more than enough island to spread out … You can see those fireworks from a lot of different places."

Commissioners approved the application.

Other events that draw people to the Keys in July are also going forward. The Underwater Music Festival at Looe Key reef off Big Pine Key is on. So is the two-day recreational mini-season for spiny lobster.

The biggest annual event in the Keys is in late October. That 10-day festival draws tens of thousands with packed bars and street parties.

Nadene Grossman Orr, whose company produces the festival, said there's no decision yet on whether — or how — that event will happen.

"We are going to make an announcement in July. There's just too many unknowns," she said. "We're still hopeful that we can do something. We just need some guidelines. We're holding out as long as we can to make a decision."

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.