St. Pete Beach fireworks to be moved away from nesting skimmers

Published June 5, 2015

ST. PETE BEACH — All were winners Thursday — the city's fireworks-loving residents, environmentalists, and, of course, protected black skimmers nesting on the city's beaches.

Pressured by emails, calls and Facebook posts by bird lovers from the area and across the nation, the city said the fireworks will go on, but will not disturb nesting birds.

After about an hour of debate, the City Commission voted unanimously to move the scheduled Fourth of July fireworks off of the Pinellas County park beach and onto either a yet-to-be secured barge or shifted to Upham Beach.

The cost could be prohibitive, however, ranging from $10,000 to $20,000, according to city estimates.

The city is spending $25,000 on the fireworks themselves. A barge, if it can be found at such a late date, could nearly double that cost.

Fireworks are a favorite tradition in this beach city, drawing thousands of visitors and residents alike. However, they have not been without incident.

In 2007, 12 people, including the city's fire chief and fire marshal, were hurt and 22 windows at the Bon-Aire Resort Motel were shattered when grand finale fireworks exploded.

The following year, the fireworks display was almost cancelled because of budget cuts, but was eventually rescued by donations from area businesses and the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

In 2010, thousands of people gathered to watch a promised fireworks display only to be disappointed because a "tactical mistake" by the pyrotechnics producer forced cancellation of the show.

The initial call of alarm over this year's planned fireworks came from Eckerd College biology professor, Beth Forys, who first posted the problem on her own Facebook page.

Forys stressed Thursday she did not want the fireworks cancelled, but rather moved away from the county park.

"This has generated a lot of interest and a lot of inappropriate emails. I am very sorry about that," she said.

Another Facebook page, created by local activist Lorraine Margeson, drew strident comments, emails and telephone calls from all over the country, some accusing the city of callous disregard for the safety of the birds.

The city chose the county park over its normal Upham Beach site largely because of complaints from residents in the southern half of the city who often had difficulty finding parking spaces near Upham Beach.

Apparently, city officials were unaware of the close proximity of the nesting area to the fireworks blasting location.

Commissioner Greg Premer, who had urged the switch to the county park, said the 17 hotels in his district are "completely booked" for the holiday weekend.

Thursday, he supported either using a barge or moving the event, saying the city "owes it to our residents and visitors" not to cancel the fireworks display as some environmentalists were proposing.