by Jonathan Weaver
Friday’s annual kick-off to the holiday season – Light-Up Kittanning Night – is not projected to be rescheduled.
The water shutoffs by Pennsylvania American Water in Kittanning, Applewold, and portions of Rayburn and Manor Townships – performed because of a potentially-dangerous pH level – ended up dampening the clear evening.
The water problem was detected at 9AM at the Kittanning plant and the holiday event was officially cancelled at approximately 3:30PM, two hours before Santa Claus was to arrive in a parade on South Jefferson and Market Streets.
Mayor Kirk Atwood and Police Chief Ed Cassesse made the final decision after speaking with Downtown Kittanning, Inc President Ray Voller.
Mayor Atwood cited safety concerns for such and authorized a “state of emergency” declaration made about 2PM.
“(Voller) called and he had mentioned they had been trying to figure out what to do – and at one point talked about going ahead with (Light-Up Kittanning) with no fireworks at the end because of the water issue and the hydrants (since) that’s kind of the big highlight of the night. (But) They decided it was a safety issue – that if we weren’t going on with the fireworks, we wouldn’t have anything,” Atwood said.
The Department of Agriculture had also shut down many local businesses during the afternoon due to the water shutoffs, which he said would have also limited business.
“(The businesses) are contributing members of DKI, and it’s DKI’s event, so it’s not fair for them to have all these people in town and business going on and not being able to participate,” Atwood said.
Voller added another reason for the cancellation.
“None of the restaurants (could) be open and they (were) not allowed to have fireworks, and some of the animals that come to this thing need water, too,” Voller said.
Chief Cassesse and two other Borough officers walked around town advising the remaining open establishments of the emergency.
“Any restaurants or bars in the borough that (had) public restroom facilities or serve food (had) to be closed under the state of emergency because there’s no water to Kittanning Borough. You also can not wash with the water that is there,” Cassesse said.
Cassesse said he and Mayor Atwood did not initially discuss the holiday kick-off event at the time of declaration. Police went back to routine patrol that evening.
Cassesse said he was disappointed Light-Up Kittanning Night fell victim to the water emergency.
“I (was) very disappointed. This is a big event for Kittanning Borough, the business people and the community as a whole. I hate to see it cancelled, but you can’t always predict what’s going to happen on any given day – we’ll rebound,” Cassesse said.
DKI Publicity Chair and Kittanning Borough Councilwoman Joie Pryde said it would have put residents in-danger if the event went on as planned.
“We (would) be putting citizens at risk because if there was a fire from the fireworks, that’s just irresponsible to go ahead with it, I think,” Pryde said
Glory on High Fireworks, LLC Marketing and Public Relations Director George Traister understood the decision.
“Without adequate water supply, we have to take that into account for the fire departments and the citizens as well. Safety is paramount, and its first-and-foremost when it comes to (the fireworks company),” Traister said.
Traister regularly attends Light-Up Kittanning Night even as a participant with sister, Jessica Coil, who works as Armstrong County Community Foundation Development Officer in Kittanning.
The fireworks are to be rescheduled for during a ‘Movie in the Park’ this summer.
Commissioner Bob Bower received a text message about the cancellation and verified such with Chief Cassesse shortly afterward. The news was also confirmed when he heard the Armstrong County Tourist Bureau phones ‘ringing off the hook with people asking if it was still on.’
“I came to Light-Up Night every year-. I liked to hear the kids singing on the street corner – it was actually probably more of a fun time when it was cold and you could snuggle up in the nice, warm coat and have hot chocolate standing on the corner talking to people. It was always a nice occasion down here,” Bower said.
Bower predicted there were many unhappy visitors and children awaiting Santa Claus’ arrival.
As did Voller.
“It’s gonna be bad, but we can’t have Light-Up Night without permission from the borough. Our hands (were) tied,” Voller said
Betty Pozzuto had family members from New Kensington who wanted to attend the festivities, but had to tell them the news that evening.
Ruby Lockhart of Rayburn Township was attending her first Light-Up Kittanning night since 2005 with her sister-in-law and daughter, Susan. She said she often has water problems at her home and understood the cancellation.
“I had a chance to go to Donegal (Westmoreland County) and dance up a storm but I decided to come down here,” Lockhart said.
Hose Company #1 Fire Chief Gene Stephens is holding out hope the event is rescheduled. He said he was getting ready to bring Santa to the fire station when he heard the news from fellow firefighters.
“I was up on the hill getting my hair cut and looking forward to bringing Santa into town, but got the news they canceled it. I was looking forward to taking him up on the new truck,” Stephens said.
Stephens brainstormed a Santa race to the Armstrong County Courthouse in the future and will introduce the idea to officials for possible inclusion soon.
Neither Mayor Atwood nor Voller could estimate the financial loss due to the cancellation.
“It didn’t really come up – it was mainly just the safety issue – the fireworks and not having water was a big concern. Beyond that, we really didn’t talk about numbers of any kind,” Atwood said.
The Armstrong County Courthouse closed at 1PM due to the water emergency.
Even with the parade and most events being cancelled, Family-Life Media was awarded as the winner of the window decorating contest. Producer Charles Zimmerman III decorated the window with the theme ‘There’s No Place Like Home,’ which depicted a soldier returning home during the holiday season.
The overall contest theme was “Celebrate a Christmas Vacation.”
Tan Yer Hide won the window decorating contest last year.
The water ban was lifted at approximately 8:10PM, but Pennsylvania American Water officials still required residents to boil their water before ingestion or for hygiene purposes.
No emergency incidents were reported.