DESTIN – Mayor Scott Fischer on Thursday said his first official task of 2017 will be to ask HarborWalk Village to consider decreasing the number of fireworks shows it puts on each year over Destin Harbor.
After a lengthy discussion at their Dec. 19 meeting, most of the Destin City Council members agreed to have him discuss this issue with HarborWalk’s top brass.
“I’m going to put that on my calendar, to have a meeting early next week,” Fischer said. “That’ll be my first New Year’s project.”
HarborWalk Village General Manager John Hall said Thursday that while he thinks council members are “wasting their time” on the issue, he’s willing to talk with Fischer.
Council members said at the meeting that while they did not have a problem with the local New Year’s Eve fireworks show — which the city helps fund — or the city-sponsored Independence Day fireworks display, they have received complaints from residents about HarborWalk’s weekly summertime shows.
Councilman Rodney Braden introduced the fireworks discussion by saying many local boaters have complained about ashes from shows landing on their boats. He also said some restaurant operators have been frustrated by patrons who nurse one beverage but don’t buy any food while waiting to see the fireworks.
Council members also mentioned a Dec. 11 brush fire on Air Force land by the west Jetty that apparently was sparked by a HarborWalk-sponsored fireworks show. They also shared other concerns about the numerous pyrotechnic displays.
“I love fireworks,” Councilman Chatham Morgan said. “Most of us probably do. I grew up as a kid watching them, but I didn’t grow up watching them every single week.”
Morgan noted that many people rent pontoon boats and personal watercraft and park them in the harbor to watch the fireworks. He said many of those “amateur boaters” probably drink alcohol while aboard the watercraft and represent “an accident waiting to happen.”
Destin is “not Disney World,” and the weekly summertime shows are “excessive” and “tacky,” said Morgan, who also complained about noise and traffic jams connected with HarborWalk’s fireworks shows.
Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said the shows are “beautiful. I enjoy them — occasionally. And I think this is probably echoed by a lot of folks, in that we’ve gotten to the point where we tune them out because they’re happening all the time. They’re not a special event anymore.”
Councilman Cyron Marler, who has worked as a maintenance specialist for HarborWalk Village/Emerald Grande since 2005, abstained from voting on having Fischer talk with HarborWalk officials.
Hall said Thursday he listened to the council’s discussion via a video recording of the meeting.
“I watched the whole thing. We’re not in agreement with it, but we’ll wait to see what they have to say.” Hall said of the council’s quest to cut the number of fireworks shows.
He said HarborWalk shoots off fireworks on 10 Thursdays during its “100 Days of Summer” celebration from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Other HarborWalk fireworks shows include a few that coincide with fishing events, Hall said.
“All the tourists love them,” he said.
The fireworks are shot off from a barge in East Pass and “are all Coast Guard-approved,” Hall said. “The bottom line is the Destin City Council has no jurisdiction over this, so they’re wasting their time on this. But we’ll meet with them and talk with them and see what they want to do.”
In response to a question from Ramswell at the Dec. 19 meeting, City Attorney Jeff Burns said the city might be able to craft an ordinance to restrict the number of fireworks shows. Burns said while the fireworks are shot from a barge on the water, HarborWalk is a land-based business in Destin and there might be “mechanisms” available to enforce such a law.