Officials Denounce Lake Tahoe Fireworks Lawsuit
In November, Joseph and Joan Truxler, of Zephyr Cove, Nev., filed a federal lawsuit against the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Pyro Spectaculars North alleging the twice-annual fireworks shows violated the Clean Water Act.
Water quality sampling conducted by the State of California's Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board in Lake Tahoe following the fireworks events has demonstrated that levels of pollutants of concern are negligible within 12 hours of the shows and pose no threat to water quality. In a recent story in the Lake Tahoe News, Lauri Kemper with Lahontan said that because the perchlorate had dissipated her agency determined there were no long-term effects to the lake from the chemical.
The water purveyors with intake lines near the barges from which the fireworks are discharged have also never reported any effect on the drinking water source as a result of the display.
"The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection encourages the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and its contractors to continue compliance with any applicable local permits, plans or requirements. NDEP does not require additional oversight of the twice a year firework displays," JoAnn Kittrell with the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources was quoted in Lake Tahoe News.
As one of the most regulated areas in the nation, Lake Tahoe has multiple agencies at the federal, regional, state and local level monitoring all aspects of the area's environment and ecology. The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority and Pyro Spectaculars obtain permits from the U.S. Coast Guard and the local fire department each year to conduct the shows. These are the only required permits for events of this type. Since their inception the fireworks have employed a rigorous cleanup protocol. The LTVA also has a pre-event planning meeting for each show with Douglas County Sheriff's Department, South Lake Tahoe Police and the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Marshal.
The fireworks used in the Lake Tahoe shows are designed to burn in the sky. If the shell does not disintegrate the remaining debris is primarily paper, cardboard and string. This is collected from the water after the display. Pyro Spectaculars uses a boat to patrol the fireworks display site for several hours post show and uses nets and other tools to clean up surface debris. The following morning a dive crew and another boat crew are dispatched. Divers cover an eight to 12 acre area, starting at the launch location and working outward, collecting general trash as well as any fireworks debris. While conducting the clean-up the divers have also assisted by removing invasive Eurasian watermilfoil plants from the lake.
"We watch the display closely each year and attention is focused on wind direction and where the current seems to be headed," said Ian Gilfillan, of Pyro Spectaculars. "Predominately, over the years, the drift has been toward Nevada Beach. We pay particular attention for gaps in the show indicating to us where to look for duds. On July 4th, we end the display about 10:10 p.m. and work into the night and again the next morning cleaning up any debris."
LTVA and Pyro Spectacular have worked collaboratively with the key regulators in the Basin - Lahontan, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, in the production of the fireworks. Since the introduction of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System more than 40 years ago, no court in the nation has held that firework displays require an NPDES permit.
The LTVA was only made aware of the Truxlers' concerns about debris after the couple contacted media following the July 4 show. Representatives from the LTVA responded immediately to concerns and staff visited the beach and interviewed several year-round residents. Longtime homeowners told the LTVA that they had never witnessed a debris problem with the event.
"Quite frankly, we're disappointed in what we believe is an unnecessary lawsuit," said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. "In 30 years, this was the first time there was any issue - it was an anomaly.
"LTVA doesn't need to be threatened with a lawsuit," said Chaplin. "If there's a problem we'll fix it. This organization has always been responsible, engaged and committed to stewardship of the Lake.
"LTVA is involved with numerous partners in various preservation programs to best position Lake Tahoe as a national environmental and business model. As part of our guiding philosophy, we promote our greatest attraction, the lake itself, in an appropriate and sustainable manner. Tahoe is our home, too, and we know its spectacular beauty and clarity is its timeless attraction, and we'll always take that responsibility seriously."
The LTVA is an influential voice in local area and community plans. The authority is also working with the Tahoe Fund's "Green Bucks" program to provide visitors a way to help care for Lake Tahoe's extraordinary environment.
The July 4 and Labor Day fireworks displays are among the area's most popular annual events and generate approximately $4 million and $2 million respectively, in revenue to Tahoe South each year helping locally owned restaurants, motels, retail and attractions whose livelihoods depends on tourism.
Initial local reaction, through comments posted on an online Tahoe news site, overwhelmingly focused on a desire for mediation and local cooperation to ensure the continued success of the fireworks and protection of the lake.
"We have been available to discuss solutions that would have avoided litigation. Our belief is that we could have easily addressed the Truxlers' concerns, improved our events and saved everyone's valuable resources," Chaplin said. "It's disappointing they were more interested in a penalty and litigation than working with us. Unfortunately, this could jeopardize these events."
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