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Revelers expected to throng to beaches, leave them spent

Behold the wayward bottle rocket, then duck.

As thousands of holiday revelers return to the area's beaches for the Fourth of July, expect to see more than sparklers in the hands of would-be pyrotechnists.

Try jumbo rocket assortments. Or phantom fiestas.

Although officials worry about the noise and debris, police officials in coastal communities of Pinellas County say they have little trouble from random fireworks displays along the shoreline.

In Treasure Island, firefighters plan to tow a trailer of water around the beach. In St. Pete Beach, police officers will enforce the city's ordinance against alcohol on the dunes.

But can they do anything to stop the fireworks displays or keep the beaches clean? The answer in most cases is no.

"Yes, people bring their own fireworks. Yes, they set them off on the beach," said John Mulvihill, the city manager of Madeira Beach. "It's impossible to police."

His town expects six times its population when 30,000 people come Tuesday for a holiday at the beach. Police officers will patrol in four-wheel-drive vehicles, but only to maintain a presence amid the throng of visitors.

"We're certainly not interested in starting a riot," Mulvihill said. "We try to curb the trouble the best we can."

Farther south, Treasure Island police officers expect to receive the usual complaints about bottle rockets. In the past week, police said, fireworks have burned a 30-foot circle of sea oats.

Sparklers and small fountains of fire are acceptable by law, but Officer Phil Bock said other fireworks could be confiscated. "The basic rule is, if it explodes or flies, you can't have it," he said.

The city, which expects thousands of visitors Tuesday, is one of the few communities that allows alcohol on the beach. Trash, of course, will abound.

"You can't have a large number of people without having (them) abuse privileges," said Mel Odom, the city's public works director.

Crews will clean the beach Wednesday.

"It's a bunch. It takes our employees all day usually to clean up," said Charles Ames, the director of community services. "It's fireworks from one end of the beach to another."

Fourth of July, he said, is the only holiday on which the entire stretch of beach must be cleaned. "When we have events, it might be heavier in one area. But Fourth of July, everybody shoots fireworks everywhere. Not just on the beach but on side streets."

Among the spent fireworks are the remains of a festive holiday.

"Cans and bottles. Lighters. Somebody's pillow. Somebody's blanket. We never find anything good," Ames said, laughing. "No gold bars. No full beers. It's all for a good time. We don't mind cleaning up that one day."

Of special concern this year, however, are the nesting areas of sea turtles. As the holiday swings into full gear, Ames and others say they hope people will leave the nests alone.

The environment, some naturalists say, already is stressed on Independence Day. With hundreds of boaters expected on the waterways during the long weekend, manatees will be at greater risk of propeller wounds, and seagrass beds of propeller dredging.

Marine life and birds will mistake trash for food. Peter Clark, director of the environmental group Tampa BAYWATCH, said he also was concerned about the "numbers of people on the causeways out in Tampa Bay without restroom facilities."

Although no officials could locate any environmental impact studies from the Fourth of July, Clark said he wondered about the effects of heavy metals and other chemicals from the fireworks landing in waterways.

"We depend on metals and other elements to give us the brilliant colors we see," he said. "From an environmental perspective, it would be better over land and in parking lots where the material could be swept up, cleaned up and disposed of in a proper manner."

But, he acknowledged, a parking lot is not the beach. It's not a place where you can sit on the sand and watch the fireworks.

Lee Fox, director of Pinellas Seabird Rehabilitation, worries less about the rockets' red glare than she does their booms. On Shell Island, she said, the holiday falls in the middle of the baby-bird season.

Dogs can ruin nesting areas, and noise from firecrackers exploding in daylight can frighten new mother birds away from their eggs, exposing them to the hot sun. "It fries them in five minutes," she said.

_ You can reach Tim Roche at (813) 893-8319 or send E-mail to trochesptimes.com.

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