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Environment: New Year's Eve fireworks sparks wrangling over the inlet

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The fuse is burning on another fireworks dispute in Murrells Inlet.

The seven restaurants comprising the Marsh Walk Group have announced plans for a New Year’s Eve fireworks show over the inlet at midnight.

Whitney Hills, chairwoman of the community group Murrells Inlet 2020, said she knew of no plans for the group to discuss the fireworks at its board meeting Wednesday. “We have a jam-packed agenda with business, elections, things like that,” she said. “If somebody wants to come in and bring it up, we can. I don’t feel like there’s anything we can do to stop it.”

Hills said the Marsh Walk Group announced plans for a voluntary cleanup on New Year’s Day. “Murrells Inlet 2020 would be Johnny on the spot to help,” she said. “I certainly hope so.”

Leon Rice, who owns Marshmere, a house on the inlet, said residents don’t like the idea of more fireworks over the inlet after the parties that clashed a year ago agreed to limit fireworks to July 4. “They said it’s the right thing to do, and they’ve gone back on their word. That’s what we are upset about. I hate to get cross-wise with the restaurants, but they seem to do things that annoy the locals,” he said.

Al Hitchcock, co-owner of Drunken Jack’s restaurant, said the Marsh Walk Group agreed to hire Zambelli’s Fireworks for the show. Two Zambelli employees, Timothy Roberts and John Tyler, were charged with violating the county noise ordinance more than a year ago. Their cases never came to trial after the restaurant group agreed to stop the fireworks this past summer.

“The Marsh Walk Group had previously moved Monday night fireworks from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. to accommodate residents’ concerns about noise late at night. Have they given any consideration to how many residents will be disturbed and upset when their families are awakened by noise from a show at midnight?” said Gary Weinreich, a Murrells Inlet resident. He said more than 2,200 people live within a mile of the Marsh Walk.

Weinreich pointed out that Charlie Campbell, owner of Dead Dog Saloon, said taking the summer off from fireworks was “the right thing to do,” at a press conference last February hosted by Murrells Inlet 2020. Halting the shows would allow more time to study any potential dangers to the marsh, he said.

Campbell could not be reached Wednesday.

“Is there any reason the residents should not feel betrayed by this sudden reversal?” Weinreich asked. “Does the New Year’s fireworks not open the door for fireworks on any other holidays and even promotional shows any night of the week?”

Sandra Bundy, a former member of the board of Murrells Inlet 2020, said fireworks demonstrations go against the fishing village image the inlet has tried to portray. “It’s just not what Murrells Inlet is about,” she said. “It’s never been about fireworks. This community voted to get the liquor law passed and everything else to build that Marsh Walk. There’s been more heartbreak in this community over what it is becoming.”

Bundy said there’s no noise or pollution enforcement until the damage is done.

“These businessmen and women are making a short-sighted decision,” she said. “They are not cognizant of where they are. This is a public resource. I don’t know that they get what is so special here.”

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