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La Jolla fireworks group: ‘Within our rights to hold event’

Organizers of the La Jolla July 4th fireworks event say they believe they have legal grounds to proceed with the display despite an environmental group’s warning.

Adam Harris, who organized a fundraising campaign to save the event in 2009, said his nonprofit group’s “environmental attorneys have assured us that we’re well within our rights to continue to hold the event, because there’s no definitive proof (of environmental harm) one way or another. There is less than a 1 percent chance that we will be stopped.”

On May 14, he received a letter from attorneys for the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation threatening “numerous legal repercussions” if the La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation went on with the show.

The letter alleges that the annual display releases substantial pollution into the water and that the foundation does not have the required permits.

But Harris said that the fireworks group’s legal advisers have said “due to a technicality ... any injunction that would potentially place a restriction or delay (on fireworks) would have to be filed 60 days after the date of when the letter was issued, and that would be well past July 4.”

Lawyers for the environmental group dispute Harris’s legal interpretation.

“The necessary 60-day notice period Mr. Harris referenced only applies to the Federal Clean Water Act, not to the State Coastal Act or any relevant Water Code claims: We can still seek an injunction in state court,” Sara S. Honadle, spokeswoman for Coast Law Group of Encinitas, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.

Harris also said proof of environmental harm would have to come in the form of water testing, which he said is extremely difficult in the La Jolla area because “it’s pretty rough.”

“We’re going forward,” Harris said. “The fireworks will be a go.”

As a sign of their intentions, the group launched its updated website this week at

www.lajollafireworks.org

.

Harris established the 501(c)3 nonprofit to save the event last year after restaurateur George Hauer, who ran the event for 24 years, originally backed out. Its website notes that they “have not violated any ordinances with the city,” despite the claims of the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, a nonprofit founded by surfers in North County which advocates protection and enhancement of coastal natural resources and the quality of life for coastal residents.

The CERF warning letter argues that coastal Fourth of July Fireworks displays in La Jolla and elsewhere release harmful pollutants into the surrounding environment as well as disrupting protected wildlife.

Attorney Marco Gonzalez, a partner in Coast Law Group, noted in the initial letter to the fireworks group that the area off La Jolla, more than 2 miles from the Scripps Pier to an area south of La Jolla Cove, is in a state-designated “Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS).”

Gonzalez wrote that the Clean Water Act’s prohibition on discharges to ASBS locations “will prevent the La Jolla Fireworks Foundation from ever legally gaining a discharge permit in La Jolla Cove.” He added the ASBS discharge prohibition is mandated in the California Ocean Plan, enforced via the California Water Code, and that the Clean Water Act requires a general NPDES permit, which is the Federal hook that requires a 60-day notice.”