Pollution concerns affects fireworks


The cancellation of the annual New Year’s Eve fireworks show over San Diego Bay after an environmental group threatened to sue over pollution concerns could lead to challenges for other similar events including those at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

The cancellation comes after the Coast Law Group, on behalf of the nonprofit Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, sent a notice of intent to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit against the Port of San Diego over fireworks shows on the bay. The port and San Diego Port Tenants Association sponsor the annual shows.

The notice stated that firework displays on New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July release “substantial amounts of pollution into San Diego Bay” in violation of the Clean Water Act.

“This, of course, raises doubt about the future of the July 4th fireworks as well,” said Sharon Cloward, president of the Port Tenants Association. “Fireworks over San Diego Bay may be a thing of the past.”

Marco Gonzalez, an attorney with the Coast Law Group, which was retained to represent the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, said his clients aren’t looking to shut down the shows, but want the Port of San Diego and Port Tenants Association to get the appropriate permit from the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“People who think we are trying to stop these shows are wrong,” Gonzalez said. “We are just trying to make them legal and safe for the environment.”

Gonzalez said other county agencies and cities that put on fireworks shows over water will be getting similar letters soon.

That definitely will include the City of San Diego — which grants permits for the La Jolla July 4th event and could also include the Del Mar Fairgrounds, he said on Dec. 24.

Because the Fairgrounds fireworks are technically over land, in the past he has not considered the environmental effects on water an issue “unless there’s an offshore wind,” the Encinitas attorney said.

But now that the lagoon restoration has been completed, he said he is concerned about the nearby wetlands and is likely to draft a letter to fair officials as well demanding that the seek the proper permits.

Officials with the Port Tenants Association said they had been work to address the concerns, but there wasn’t enough time to save tonight’s scheduled fireworks show.

“Unfortunately we were not afforded enough time for the New Year’s Eve show,” Cloward said. “It is a free public event that is supposed to be enjoyed by all San Diegans.”

The planned celebration aboard the USS Midway Museum will go on as scheduled, said spokesman Scott McGaugh. “About 600 people have bought tickets to a sumptuous dinner, Big Band entertainment and flight deck champagne at the stroke of midnight.”

Gonzalez said he notified the port 50 days ago, but they “did nothing.”

The legal notice outlines a number of hazardous compounds contained in fireworks that could pollute the bay including arsenic, strontium, lithium, calcium, sodium, barium, cadmium, copper, aluminum, titanium, lead, mercury and magnesium.

Three years ago, SeaWorld temporarily suspended its nightly fireworks show in response to complaints that the pyrotechnics are polluting Mission Bay. The theme park was able to resume the shows after securing a permit from the SDRWQB. Under the terms of the permit, SeaWorld was required to monitor the water and sediment of Mission Bay.