by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
Sanibel Island will have its traditional pre-pandemic Fourth of July celebrations – the parade, Road Rally and fireworks are returning, for at least this year. The future of Independence Day fireworks on the island remains up in the air.
Vice Mayor Richard Johnson made the motion to move forward with fireworks on the Fourth, and directed city staff to look at alternative “displays of appreciation” to mark the important day in the future. Council voted 4-1 Tuesday, May 3 in favor of the motion.
In the April council meeting, a straw poll showed a majority of the members were against the Fourth of July fireworks display returning to the island. Those members said fireworks were not in keeping with the environmental standards of Sanibel.
The Sanibel Vision Statement, in part, says the island “is and shall remain a barrier island sanctuary, one in which a diverse population lives in harmony with the island’s wildlife and natural habitats.” And the concern is fireworks are not in harmony with nature.
The colorful explosions produced by fireworks are made by indestructible heavy metals, which end up in the water and soil. Sanibel launches its show from the end of Bailey Road, very close to the San Carlos Bay.
Councilman John Henshaw, who voted against the motion, spoke in length about the elements in fireworks and said this could have been a good time for the island to depart from a harmful tradition and establish a more environmentally- and wildlife-friendly option.
“Let’s not confuse celebration with fireworks,” said Henshaw. “At some point, we need to lead by example and learn from the past…fireworks do not suit Sanibel.”
Kelly Sloan of the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation said during public comment the organization is concerned about the impact fireworks have on our wildlife and encouraged council to consider the known negative impacts to wildlife in their deliberations.
She explained the loud, spontaneous explosions, especially when fireworks are discharged on or near water, will incite flight responses and disorientation in birds. She said harmful debris can be ingested by sea turtles and other species.
Sloan also addressed concerns raised about the impact of loud music on wildlife after SCCF held its annual Beer in the Bushes event at the Bailey Homestead, which featured live bands.
“We plan to quantify the noise and wildlife behaviors associated with these events (including fireworks) to monitor closely the impact of these events to ensure we are not causing stress or harm to the vulnerable population,” said Sloan.
A recent Santiva Chronicle poll showed voters were almost evenly divided on the return of fireworks. While some are against them for environmental reasons, others are in complete favor of ending the Fourth celebrations with fireworks booming in the night sky. It’s a nation-wide custom dating back to nearly as far as American independence itself.
Council members agreed both points of view have valid points. Mayor Holly Smith said she was in “absolute support” of the half-hour fireworks show set off in the best location for the least amount of impact. It has a deep tradition with families and is a good compromise between the island’s sanctuary quality and us humans.
Councilman Mike Miller voted in favor of fireworks this year because he hopes the public show will deter visitors and residents from independently detonating fireworks in violation of the city’s ordinance. He said it might be better than the city prohibiting them and then doing nothing.
Vice Mayor Johnson said he is empathetic to the environmental and wildlife impact, but felt the traditional fireworks show is needed this year by the community.
In addition to fireworks, the parade down Periwinkle Way and 42nd Annual Road Rally will return on the Fourth. Council unanimously approved the Road Rally application Tuesday.
It will be hosted for the first time by Friends of Randy (Carson) instead of The Optimist Club, which raised funds for its six scholarships and other youth programs. Carson is a longtime island resident and member of The Optimist Club.
The Road Rally start and finish line is at Timbers Restaurant. Teams are given clues and follow a map to find the answers. Prizes are awarded for first, second and third place.