AUGUSTA — A parade and other traditional Fourth of July outdoor activities may return to the city this Independence Day. With the upcoming lift of state limits on public gatherings, central Maine begins making plans for spring and summer activites that were canceled last year.

City councilors were scheduled, at their meeting early last week, to discuss what the city will do to celebrate the Fourth of July this year. Last year, in response to the pandemic and its related restrictions, Augusta canceled its traditional Fourth of July parade and fireworks and many of the children’s’ activities and other events planned around them.

After the councilors met, Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday that Maine would now align with US Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on the size of public gatherings and eliminate most social distancing requirements as well beginning May 24.

Before Mills’  announcement, Earle Kingsbury, interim director of community services for the City of Augusta, had prepared a list of four options for city councilors to consider for this Fourth of July. They included doing nothing, having only “drive-in” fireworks at the Augusta Civic Center like the city did last November to kick off the holiday season, not having a parade but having some by-reservation-only children’s activities and drive-in fireworks at the Civic Center, or having typical Fourth of July activities like those held before the pandemic. This would include a parade, live music and children’s activities at Market Square and Mill Park, and fireworks shot off over the Kennebec River from the former Statler Tissue site.

City Manager William Bridgeo said Mills’ announcement means city staff don’t have as many concerns they had about planning Fourth of July activities, and Kingsbury and other staff would come back to city councilors with a plan for a return to robust and traditional Fourth of July events without the state restrictions requiring social distancing at outdoor gatherings in place.

“We’re going to proceed with plans for a more ‘normal’ Fourth of July,” Bridgeo told city councilors Thursday. “Earle (Kingsbury) will prepare a memorandum for you all, which describes what we’re going to do. I can tell you now it’s going to contemplate a parade and the other traditional community outdoor events that we’ve enjoyed in the past.”

He said Kingsbury had been struggling to balance the desire to reinstitute Fourth of July celebrations such as a parade and other fun activities with COVID-19-related restrictions, before Mills’ announcement.

“As of the announcement this afternoon, by the new state policies it appears that is no longer going to be a constriction or restriction,” Bridgeo said.

He said the city would encourage attendees, “if there are large crowds, you know, shoulder to shoulder,” to wear masks, but said as a practical matter he didn’t see how mask-wearing could be enforced at an outdoor public gathering.

The state had been slated to remove the capacity limits on outdoor venues on May 24, but prior to Thursday’s announcement still would have required physical distancing even in those outdoor settings.

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