Fireworks displays along San Diego's coastline debated

Fireworks went on in 2010 despite a lawsuit. Photo: Brittany Comunale
Fireworks went on in 2010 despite a lawsuit. Photo: Brittany Comunale

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

Players largely reiterated their stances on a tentative order that could make it a lot harder — and expensive — to host fireworks over water  potentially threatening community-oriented Fourth of July displays like the one held annually at La Jolla Cove.

Environmentalists and representatives of the fireworks industry and communities and organizations hosting fireworks displays over bodies of water crossed swords again at a two-hour public workshop Dec. 16 at the California Regional Qater Quality Control Board of San Diego in Kearny Mesa. The workshop was an opportunity to comment on Tentative Order No. R9-2010-0124, originally released on Sept. 23, 2010.

The San Diego Water Board is currently fine-tuning that tentative order but had not completed the process. Water board staff added a final decision on the order, which stiffens requirements for hosting fireworks displays over water as well as charging a $1,452 fee per event.

The board is likely to hold another public workshop on the tentative order in late January before making a final decision on new tougher regulations in March or April of 2011.

In opening remarks, water board executive officer David Gibson explained the worshop’s purpose.

“The tentative order is itself a work in progress and this is the right time for the regional board which is charged with regulating pollutants discharged along the coast,” he said, adding fireworks debris unquestionably carries metals and other toxic debris that could potentially pollute water.

Gibson said the water board intends to “level the playing field” for all fireworks “players.”

“Whether fireworks are discharged over Santee or Dana Point, there should be the same rules,” he said.

Roger Schneider, a pyrotechnics expert and consultant for the fireworks industry, recited a long list of toxic chemicals, at the end of which he said, “I put them in my mouth, chewed and swallowed — it was broccoli coated with vinaigrette dressing” The point being, he added, that we’re surrounded by toxic chemicals which, in minute quantities, are beneficial not harmful.

That analogy Schneider likened to once-a-year fireworks displays which he argued leave only traces of harmful chemicals in the environment.

“I need to ask you (water board) how much (toxic) is there?” he asked. “You need to keep an eye on quantification.”

Environmental attorney Marco Gonzalez, who unsuccessfully attempted last year to block La Jolla’s Fourth of July display arguing all necessary permitting had not been obtained, said opponents of the new proposed tighter restrictions for fireworks permitting and water-quality monitoring are obscuring the facts.

“There is a patriotic notion that fireworks over water makes us feel more American,” he said, noting the Clean Water Act specifies harmful chemicals like those found in fireworks are required to be monitored by law in the environment. “We don’t want to but we will go to court to sue each and every municipality that violates the Clean Water Act. Don’t regulate (fireworks). We’re more than happy to resolve these issues in court.”

City Councilwoman Sherri Lightner, whose First District includes La Jolla, cautioned the water board to consider “the frequency of fireworks displays," as well as the potential for "a huge (negative) impact on the economy, tourism and tax revenues" caused by barring them.

   
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