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Community rallies to make Freeland fireworks show happen

The math and a lot of goodwill appear to be working to make sure the community has a blast.

The outlook was bleak for awhile, but now organizers of the Celebrate America July 3 fireworks show are close to their goal, and say the event will go on.

The annual display in Holmes Harbor off Freeland County Park was in danger of cancellation for the first time in 15 years, thanks to that bugaboo, the economy.

Last month, the $40,000 show was still $30,000 short, and things weren’t looking good, said Pastor Matt Chambers of the South Whidbey Assembly of God Church, sponsor of the annual event.

Budget woes at the Island County Sheriff’s Office meant organizers would have to pick up the $4,800 cost of providing security.

Faithful large donors were cutting back on their contributions, and shuttle transportation costs were expected to increase.

Then there was a turnaround.

“The money’s coming in,” Chambers reported last week. “We’re still about $5,500 short, but we’re moving ahead. It’s going to happen.”

Chambers said the biggest single factor in reducing costs was that the local people providing and setting off the fireworks will be doing both for free.

“We were a little ahead of the game, and they were a bit short,” said LeRoy Olsen, whose construction company, Mick Olsen Corporation, is in Freeland.

In the past, the church would buy the fireworks, and Olsen and some of his employees would set them off.

“Nobody gets paid,” Olsen said. “We all like doing it. It’s kind of a family thing.”

This year, Olsen said he would provide the fireworks, too, if the church pays the $15,000 for the launching barge and the insurance.

Meanwhile, Chambers said that Birch Equipment of Bellingham will cut the cost of generator rentals in half, for more savings.

And PayLess Foods will double its previously-announced contribution, putting $5,000 into the pot, about the same as past years, he said.

The annual free event features games, food, entertainment and patriotism along with the fireworks. In past years, as many as 7,000 people from Whidbey and off-island have jammed the park for the show, while hundreds more watched at private parties in the surrounding area, Chambers said.

Chambers said the church near Langley, which has a weekly attendance of about 300, has organized the annual fireworks event as a gift to the area, and has no intention of charging admission.

He said that along with the show, the church has conducted a food drive at the event to benefit Good Cheer Food Bank.

Olsen, 49, said he took over the fireworks show from his father, Mick Olsen, several years ago.

He said he and his team have put on more than

100 other shows, from the San Juan Islands to other communities in the Puget Sound area, and he uses some of those proceeds to help finance his hometown event.

Olsen has even organized pyrotechnic shows for people who are getting married.

“Wedding shows are quite the rage for people who can afford it,” he said. “I did my own wedding.”

Olsen said fireworks have become more expensive, because shows are prohibited by federal regulations from using materials from China.

He said the Freeland show, which will last about 22 minutes, depending on the wind, will be made up of high-quality fireworks manufactured in the United States.

He promised a good show, “unless there’s some federal rule change. There seems to be a rule change every five minutes, thanks to Homeland Security.”

Chambers said organizers appear to have dodged a bullet this year, and that the sparks will be flying at Freeland as usual.

“It’s going to be a good night,” he said. “And it will be a great fireworks show.”

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