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Fireworks: Litchfield Beaches group will poll members on no-fire zones

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

It’s the quiet season, but property owners at the Litchfield Beaches are already preparing for next summer’s barrage of fireworks. Signs marking “fireworks-prohibited zones” on the beach in front of five North Litchfield homes were due to go up this week. Property owners there and at Litchfield Beach will be polled this fall to find out if they support efforts to expand those zones.

The Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association agreed this week to conduct the survey. Is members represent over 700 properties.

Under state law, county government can’t regulate fireworks, but owners can designate their property as fireworks-prohibited zones. With approval from the county, those zones extend to adjacent public property, such as the beachfront or beach accesses.

Last month, Georgetown County Council approved five fireworks-free zones at North Litchfield. Other property owners are expected to follow, said John Thomas, president of the Litchfield Beaches association. He asked the association board to support the effort.

It isn’t just the beach that’s affected, said Rhea Carter, a board member who lives on Lakeshore Drive. She finds fireworks debris outside her house and hears the explosions on summer nights.

“Until we know how it will be enforced, I don’t know how a sign would help,” said Richard Heusel, a board member who lives on the oceanfront.

If more people sign up for the zones, it might lead to more policing, Carter said.

Under the law, it’s a misdemeanor to shoot fireworks within or across a zone. A first offense carries a $100 fine.

Steve Harris, a board member who lives in Waccamaw Trace, said he would be happy to limit fireworks to one day a year: July 4. But he was concerned that the board didn’t have a sense of how association members feel. “I don’t want to water down people’s ability to rent their homes at a reasonable price,” he said.

“The value of property has nothing to do with the ability to shoot fireworks,” Thomas said.

Vacationers have told him they won’t return to North Litchfield because the they don’t think it’s safe to let their children go onto the beach at night.

A 2001 survey of over 800 property owners in the Litchfield Beaches drew responses from about 460. Of those, three-quarters said fireworks were a problem and a third said they should be banned. The survey was conducted by a member who owned a marketing company.

Restrictions on fireworks on Pawleys Island and Huntington Beach State Park make the Litchfield Beaches a destination for shooters, association board members said.

“We need to see how people feel and how strongly they feel,” Heusel said.

With support from the membership, Thomas said he envisions the association’s role will be to provide property owners with the forms and information about the procedure to create fireworks-prohibited zones. The first group of properties to establish zones were organized by Karen Cline, a North Litchfield resident who said she got tired of the trash from fireworks littering the beach.

She asked the association to put up a sign at the North Litchfield entrance saying “fireworks-prohibited zones enforced.” Board members said that was deceptive, since there are only five zones.

The board should await the survey results, Heusel said.

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