The Mississippi's high waters won’t dampen the Independence Day celebrations in the Capitol region, but organizers say they have been forced to make some logistics changes to the fireworks shows.
Fourth of July revelers won’t be allowed on the Mississippi River’s levees this year as officials worry about the mix of slippery algae and pedestrians, but other locations around downtown Baton Rouge have been designated as vantage points to see the WBRZ-TV Fireworks show on the river that starts around 9 p.m.
The city’s festival activities will take place around the riverfront plaza directly to the west of the Raising Cane’s River Center. That area as well as the Old State Capitol Grounds, City Hall Plaza and Repentance Park have been earmarked as the prime locations to see the show once the sun goes down.
Pedestrians will have access to the levees until 4 p.m., at which time Baton Rouge Police officers will begin enforcing the closure.
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Officials had several logistics challenges in going ahead with the summertime celebration both on and off the water. WBRZ marketing director Noah Kozinko said authorities ranging from the city to the Army Corps of Engineers to the National Guard had a say in how to roll out the fireworks as the river's high water lingers months longer than usual.
WBRZ would usually load a barge in Plaquemine and bring it to Baton Rouge, then set off the 18- to 20-minute show from there. But this year, officials told the company it needs a bigger barge than in previous years to ensure the operator can maintain control of the vessel in high water.
“They mandated we use a larger tug because the river’s moving so fast and so high, so they wanted to make sure the barge, with explosives on it, is easily controllable,” said Chuck Lucia, an operator with J&M Displays, the company WBRZ contracts with to set off the pyrotechnics.
In addition, he said, the barge is required to have more than 1,200 horsepower when usually they use around 600 horsepower for a show like this. They’ve opted for a 1,600 horsepower vessel this year.
“We went over and above just in case; it’s better to be safe,” Lucia said.
Massive firework displays, cookouts, live music, parades — there are a lot of ways the Baton Rouge area celebrates the Fourth of July.
The Mississippi has come down several feet in the last month, since the Corps announced it would likely need to operate the Morganza Flood Control Structure north of Baton Rouge. The Corps since indefinitely postponed the spillway’s opening, saying the river wasn’t reaching height and flow targets needed to operate the flood control structure. As of Wednesday afternoon, the river measured 42.4 feet, which keeps it at major flood stage. The levees at the area range from 48 to 51 feet above sea level.
The receding water has left behind several feet of algae on the levees — where the public usually sits to watch Fourth of July fireworks — causing the city to announce the levee closure.
BRPD spokesman Sgt. L’Jean McKneely said officers will be stationed downtown throughout festivities, and while they are encouraging people to enjoy the holiday, they’ll be out in force if revelers are on the levees, using fireworks or operating guns illegally.
He said each year, without fail, BRPD fields calls about residents setting off fireworks or shooting guns into the air.
“Guns create a dangerous situation,” he said. “What goes up must come down somewhere and it may hurt somebody, it could penetrate the tops of cars, a falling bullet could even kill people.”
He said if a person is determined to be causing either issue, their fireworks or gun can be confiscated.
“Have a great time, enjoy it, but be responsible and mindful of others,” McKneely said.
The USS Kidd Fourth of July Spectacular in downtown Baton Rouge and Port Allen's Fourth Fest will both begin at 4 p.m. The Baton Rouge Concert Band will begin performing at the State Capitol at 7:30 p.m.
The WBRZ fireworks show is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m.