INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — In spite of city and county ordinances as well as state law forbidding the sale and use of fireworks in the entire state, unauthorized fireworks are a persistent problem in Indian Rocks Beach.
A work session to discuss deterring fireworks was led by City Manager Gregg Mims at the Oct. 8 city hall meeting.
Mims began the discussion by exhibiting a series of photos projected on the main screen in the auditorium, revealing truckloads of fireworks, mortar fragments and spent firework debris being cleaned off the beach. This scene is repeated the days after New Year’s Eve and July 4th year after year, not to mention other random holidays.
The fireworks and their aftermath make the beaches look more like “something you would expect to see in Afghanistan,” said Mims.
“Somehow, word has gotten around that Indian Rocks Beach is the place to go to shoot off fireworks,” he said.
Pinellas Fire & Rescue District Chief Mike Burton said emergency rooms reported 13,000 annual injuries due to mishandled fireworks, and there is $20 million in property damage.
Environmentalists from Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Audubon Bird Stewards reported that the noise, debris, and lights from fireworks were negatively impacting both sea turtles and beach nesting birds. Fireworks cause aborted nesting attempts, ingestion of plastic residue, and disturbed and disoriented hatchlings, all of which significantly reduces the number of successful births.
Mims reported that July Fourth generated 22 truckloads of fireworks debris that had to be picked up the next day. The scope of the problem goes beyond the mess.
“Three-inch mortar rounds are dangerous explosives,” said Mims.
Captain Mike Leiner of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was present to offer assistance.
“Let us know what you need,” Leiner said.
A number of concerned residents offered their input during public comments. There were unsettling stories of belligerent individuals chasing and threatening residents with fireworks and of a near-miss of fireworks whirring past a child’s face. The general consensus was that most of the unwanted fireworks were being brought in by non-residents and that more law enforcement was needed.
The city’s ordinance forbids the sale or use of fireworks, but it is not stopping it. The commission agreed that a plan needs to be enacted before holidays come around.
With New Year’s Eve not that far off, commissioners gave Mims the go-ahead to arrange for “no fireworks” flyers to be distributed at each beach access. That, combined with both newspaper and electronic media coverage as well as signs and notices posted well before the holiday, will be a start. The city will also request additional police presence from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to enforce the existing ordinance against fireworks.
Mims was also asked to research the possibility of the city having its own professional fireworks display for July 4th and New Year’s Eve.
“A modest fireworks display from a barge runs $50,000 and up,” said Mims.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to have the city manager implement notices and get additional law enforcement to thwart unauthorized fireworks in the city, realizing it may take some time for the plan to work.
“It took two years to make a difference (getting rid of illegal fireworks) in another town,” said Mims.
In other news
• A resolution was adopted calling for a municipal general election to fill the vacancies of the mayor and two commissioner seats to be held on March 17. The positions are for two-year terms each.
The seats up for election are the mayor’s seat, currently held by Cookie Kennedy, and the two commissioners’ seats, currently held by Nick Palomba and Edward Hoofnagle. The qualifying period for interested candidates is from Monday, Dec. 2, at noon until Monday, Dec. 9, 2 at noon.
• Kennedy introduced Bode Ahlers at the beginning of the meeting as a student from Largo High School who would be writing a paper about the meeting. Bode is an 11th-grader in the ExCEL program at Largo High.
At the end of the meeting, Bode was asked what he found most interesting about the meeting. He responded, “the formatting, how things are presented, discussed and decided upon.”