Thursday, April 28, 2011

Resident trying to arrange on-island fireworks display

Last year, with only four weeks to gather the required funding, Sharon Michie successfully spearheaded a campaign to save Sanibel's annual fireworks display.

But this year, she came up with a different idea that may provide islanders with an even bigger and better showcase celebrating our nation's independence. However, with less than 11 weeks to go until the Fourth of July, Michie is quickly running out of time and options.

Michie, the proprietor of Cottages To Castles, began inquiring about the possibility of staging this year's fireworks display at Gulside City Park, on Algiers Beach. According to Michie, she met with a representative of Zambelli Fireworks as well as the chief and fire marshal from the Sanibel Fire & Rescue District approved the location, with stipulations that the police department block off a portion of the parking lot and beach (as had been done for years at the Bailey Road location) and creating a launch site that would be a safe distance from any sea turtle nests.

"The Chamber, along with many hoteliers and restauranteurs, have expressed great enthusiasm for the change of venue," Michie wrote in her e-mail to City Manager Judie Zimomra. "The thinking behind the change of venue is to (hopefully) encourage people to move past the causeway and come on to the island and rent a hotel room, condominium, bikes, boat, etc. for the Fourth of July holiday."

Michie explained that since additional vegetation along the Sanibel Causeway has reduced the number of available parking spaces along that thoroughfare, considered the best spot for watching the city's annual fireworks display, island residents have limited options for where they can view the event.

"I do realize that many people are resistant to change and may oppose this move," Michie added. " If the 2011 show is a flop, we could certainly go back to Bailey Road. After all of the support we received from the community last year, I want to truly make the fireworks a community event, to be enjoyed by our community, for miles and miles, not just from the causeway."

Zimomra responded to Michie's initial e-mail, noting that Algiers Beach had previously been considered as a potential location for a dog park. However, it was deemed not feasible due to the impact of noise on shorebirds.

"In addition to shorebird roosting and nesting issues, July 4 is a very active part of the loggerhead turtle nesting season and the event would have to occur after dark, when female loggerheads are coming ashore to nest and the early nests of the year are beginning to hatch," wrote Dr. Rob Loflin of the city's Department of Natural Resources. "We have historically not permitted any beach events/major activities during turtle nesting season and I would recommend adhering to this policy."

Michie responded to the objections of both the city staff and representatives from the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge, noting, "For whatever reason, the Bailey Road site does not face any opposition. Just because the fireworks 'have always been there' doesn't make it the best and safest location over others on the island."

Mason Meyer of Zambelli Fireworks offered a different perspective, based upon his company's years of dealing with similar environmental concerns.

"We are very sensitive to the wildlife and endangered species issues and always strive to do what it takes to make it work for all parties," said Meyer. "I had to move the site location four times this past year in Boca Raton for July 4th due to owl nesting. But all parties came together to make it work. We recycle nearly everything we use at Zambelli and strive to be as green as possible."

As of late Tuesday afternoon, Michie's idea to move the city's fireworks display to a location where more islander may be able to enjoy the event is appearing less likely.

"We've asked for their advice or other possible alternatives, but we're not getting anywhere," she said. "Everybody seems to be fixated on the Bailey Road location."

Last week, Rick Hayduk from South Seas Island Resort on Captiva suggested using a one-acre section of their employee parking lot at Chadwick's Square, which could accommodate more than 300 vehicles. However, a subsequent e-mail from Carol Lis, principal environmental planner with the Lee County Division of Environmental Sciences, seems to have quickly squelched that idea.

"Please be aware that the Lee County Land Development Code prohibits the detonating of fireworks on the beach, upon the dunes or in the water adjacent to the beach in unincorporated Lee County. This includes the beaches of Captiva, Upper Captiva, Cayo Costa and Boca Grande," Lis wrote. "Other activities on the beaches after 9 p.m. are also strictly regulated at this time of year."

Despite all of the negative feedback she has received, Michie said that she will continue to explore additional options.

"It looks like we're going to be exhausting every possibility," she added. "We still have 11 weeks to go."

Cuts from the City of Sanibel's annual budget caused the fireworks display to be funded privately since 2009. Last year, Michie oversaw a four-week fundraising campaign that raised more than $17,000 for a 12-minute fireworks display.

Traditionally, Sanibel's Independence Day fireworks display is launched from the north end terminus of Bailey Road.JEFF LYSIAK

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