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Ordinance would let property owners ban fireworks on beach

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A proposed county ordinance might make it harder to find a place to shoot off fireworks on the beach.

Fireworks are already banned on Pawleys Island and at Huntington Beach State Park.

The new ordinance, up for discussion by Georgetown County Council on Tuesday, would likely lead to fireworks being made illegal on at least some parts of Litchfield beaches, as well.

The ordinance would allow property owners who have their land registered with the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office as a fireworks prohibited zone to extend the zone onto adjoining public property. For beachfront properties, the zone could be extended as far as the low water mark, said County Council Member Jerry Oakley, but only for the beach directly adjacent to the house.

Those applying for extensions would fill out a form and a public hearing would be held. The request would then go to council for approval.

Fireworks-related complaints are among the most common grievances Oakley hears from Litchfield constituents, he said.

“There are concerns about the noise and danger associated with fireworks,” he said. “I get calls about bottle rockets landing on roofs, and then there are the environmental concerns about debris.”

Sharyn Kovac, a Litchfield by the Sea resident, said fireworks are a nightly issue in her neighborhood during the summer.

“You can’t even enjoy a

peaceful walk on the beach at night because of them. You’re dodging fireworks and breathing in all the smoke, and the noise is tremendous. They wake you up, going off at 10, 11 or 12 o’clock at night.”

Trash resulting from fireworks is also a concern.

“I walk on the beach almost daily and I see this debris on the beach every day, all year long, because it washes back in,” she said. “Who knows how much stays out there. I really don’t think I want to know, because I think it would be very disturbing.

“It is land, air, water and noise pollution.”

Kovac is among those who have contacted Oakley for help and said she fully supports the ordinance. She plans to attend council’s meeting on Tuesday to urge their support.

Kovac said fireworks have been a problem for her since she moved to Litchfield by the Sea six years ago, and it has gotten worse every year. Where there used to be a couple of people setting off fireworks on the beach, she said it’s now happening up and down the beach and it’s going on increasingly later.

Barbara Neely of Litchfield Beach has a different view.

“I personally enjoy seeing the fireworks,” she said. “We did have one fire on our dunes one summer as a result of fireworks, but we put it out and everything was OK.”

Neely has noticed debris on the beach from fireworks, but it gets cleaned up.

“Usually the next day, the people who shot them off go out and help clean up. We do have a beach sweep. And really, I don’t think it does that much damage to the environment as opposed to cruise ships that go out and dump all their garbage in the ocean.”

As for the noise, “on occasion there are problems with people going past 10 or 11 [p.m.], but that’s the exception.”

Neely said she isn’t in favor of the ordinance for several reasons, including challenges in enforcing a ban that might be in place in front of one beach house, but not the ones on either side.

Kovac agrees enforcement could be an issue, but “at least something will be in place. It’s a start.”

Another concern for Neely is the standard the ordinance sets.

“I feel like we’re gradually losing our freedoms one by one,” she said. “If this isn’t halted, what’s next? Banning dogs on the beach?”

Richard Smith, a Litchfield attorney and president of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association, said the ordinance isn’t needed and questions whether it’s constitutional.

It’s extremely rare for the association to get complaints about fireworks, other than on the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve, and then “it’s usually some fool setting them off at midnight.” As long as people behave responsibly, “I think it’s kind of neat to be in a place that allows people to do that,” Smith said. “It’s great on the Fourth of July. When you look and see all the fireworks going off all the way from Garden City to Pawleys Island, it’s something I don’t think you see anywhere else in the county.”

Council is set to give second reading to the ordinance on Tuesday. A final reading would be needed in June.

If it passes, “I don’t know how many applications might come before council,” Oakley said. “I do know I hear a lot of complaints about problems associated with fireworks, so I think a lot of folks, once they become aware they can declare their private property fireworks free zones will do that, and I expect most will be interested in expanding that to the beachfront.”

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