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Neighbors call Jacksonville Beach celebration a success

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Updated: 7/05/2013 12:01 am
JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. -- Jacksonville Beach got its fireworks back Thursday, and nearly 100,000 people returned for the decades old tradition.

The crowds got out of hand in 2011, and overwhelmed police. In less than four hours that year, police responded to 270 calls for service, and made 20 arrests. Because of that, the 2012 show was canceled.

Then on Memorial Day this year, several fights broke out along the Jacksonville Beach boardwalk, and as a result, no one was sure if the tradition would ever return again.

"There were a lot of teens, and college students here to party than an actual family celebration," said Rachel Bonneval of celebrations in the past.

Bonneval and her husband Brandon weren't sure they wanted to come back and bring their five kids this year, but city leaders convinced them by hosting the first ever Stars and Stripes at the Sea walk celebration that was focused on family fun.

"We heard they were going to try to make it better," said Brandon, "and we wanted to see how it is, and so far it's been really good."

Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham says that makes him hopeful.

"It's all been about our country," he told Action News during the event. "It's all been about celebration and family, and we're very, very pleased."

New traffic patterns were also implemented in 2013 to get people in and out of the area more easily, and police presence doubled from in the past. Officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Nassau County, St. Augustine Beach, and Florida Highway Patrol, assisted officers from Jacksonville, Neptune and Atlantic Beaches.

The Bonnevals say the plan worked.

"The officers actually helped us find a place to park," said Rachel. "It was safe. They were keeping track of the roads. I felt safer than I have in years."

But this is still just a test. Latham says city leaders are taking it year by year, and haven't decided if the event will occur again in 2014.

"As long as we can provide a safe environment for everybody and take care of not just our own residents but also our visitors that come into town, then we can go ahead and do it year to year. Right now it's looking pretty good."

Latham says the Jacksonville Beach City Council is expected to comment on the event at its next meeting. The city is currently in the budget process, and should announce by August if the event will occur, and if it will be included in next year's budget.

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