Thursday, September 4, 2014
To the Editor:
There are more wonderful things about Murrells Inlet than I can count.
Rich in history, tradition and natural beauty; this historic fishing village is home to many residents and thriving businesses.
In an ideal world, these businesses and residents would respect each other and would try to understand each other’s concerns. When this happens, everyone gets along better.
However, when the seven restaurants along the Marshwalk decided to sponsor Monday night fireworks again this year, they ignored the concerns of residents and elected officials, and even their own public commitment to end the fireworks displays after 2013.
While most people enjoy fireworks (myself included), there are many harmful impacts, especially when fireworks are launched over a saltwater marsh.
First of all, fireworks are explosives that are strictly regulated by the Department of Homeland Security.
Commercial fireworks displays create some of the highest noise levels measured, typically 150 decibels at the point of launch.
By comparison, a jet airliner taking off is 140 decibels.
Now consider that there are 7,500 residents who live within three miles of the fireworks launch site according to the 2000 US Census.
Noise levels from the Monday night fireworks have been measured as high as 84 decibels in the nearby residential neighborhoods.
This level far exceeds the 50-decibel residential guideline contained in the Georgetown County Noise Control Ordinance.
Due to the way the decibel scale is established, the actual noise level from the fireworks is more than 1,000 times the recommended level.
Did the restaurant owners consider this when they decided to detonate these explosive devices near our homes on 10 consecutive Monday evenings again this year?
Or, put another way, would anyone else be allowed to go into a residential area in Georgetown County at 9 p.m. and detonate explosives that result in noise levels 1,000 times the county guidelines?
The noise is not the only concern about weekly fireworks.
The Fourth of July fireworks this year, while a treasured community event, had no cleanup plan for the marsh afterwards and hundreds of pieces of cardboard, aluminum foil, and detonation wires were left behind in the oyster beds.
The Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office confirmed this violation of state litter laws in an incident report but declined to issue a citation.
Instead, enforcement responsibility was turned over to the Department of Natural Resources.
Likewise, the fireworks debris left in the inlet from the 10 weekly Monday Night Lights fireworks displays has also been photographed and widely published by local media.
Many of the Murrells Inlet residents who participate in the annual Spring Tide cleanup are confused and troubled by the idea that seven restaurants feel they have the right to place litter in the inlet on a weekly basis.
Many question why South Carolina’s litter laws are not being enforced equally for everyone.
If we are to continue to enjoy our traditional 4th of July Fireworks, we should also take responsibility for implementing an effective cleanup plan afterwards.
Thankfully, Murrells Inlet 2020’s Board of Directors has initiated a study to determine “best practices” for minimizing fireworks debris in the future.
The noise and litter are measurable. Two other very important impacts are more difficult to measure but nonetheless equally important considerations.
Local wildlife experts have expressed concerns about the impacts of weekly fireworks on nesting shorebirds, including species of threatened status that are known to nest in Murrells Inlet.
Fireworks have been documented to cause birds to abandon their nests. Many residents feel it’s more important to protect our diverse wildlife population than to draw additional customers to the Marshwalk restaurants on Monday nights.
Likewise, much as been said about the many hazardous chemicals present in fireworks.
Heavy metals and chlorinated compounds have been measured in studies published in scientific journals.
Since our inlet supports oysters, and since oysters filter 20 times their weight in water every hour, a logical concern is whether these hazardous pollutants are being concentrated in the tissue of the shellfish and other marine life.
Murrells Inlet is one of the most productive commercial oyster resources in the state.
Many residents and visitors who enjoy eating our oysters question the wisdom of adding potentially dangerous pollutants to our estuary’s fragile oyster beds.
We all understand the desire to increase business, but what if other businesses decide to launch weekly fireworks to increase their business as well?
And if Monday night fireworks is shown to increase business, how about Tuesday and Wednesday nights as well?
How many more nights could the peace, serenity and environment of the inlet be disturbed and degraded?
The fortunate thing about Monday Night Lights is that all the resulting environmental issues are 100 percent avoidable!
The cost of commercial fireworks displays is generally estimated at $1,000 per minute.
Using this as the basis, the estimated price tag for the 10 Monday Night Lights displays in 2014 is $60,000.
The restaurants indicate that the fireworks draw 1,500 additional customers every Monday night or 15,000 additional customers for the season.
Wouldn’t it be wiser to hand out Marshwalk Bucks coupons or offer special discounts to customers visiting on the these 10 Monday nights?
The cost could be a wash, the residents would not be at odds with the restaurants, and the estuary would be spared any degradation resulting from repeated fireworks.
The late Genevieve “Sister” Peterkin entitled her book “Heaven is a Beautiful Place” and in it she commemorates her life in Murrells Inlet. Shouldn’t all of us, businesses and residents alike, to do everything we reasonably can to preserve and protect this little piece of heaven we all share together?
The boards of directors of Murrells Inlet 2020 and Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc., both unanimously voted to oppose the Monday night fireworks because they understand the negative impacts on the inlet and take responsibility for its protection.
If we could all share in this responsibility then, perhaps, we might just all get along.
Note: The author is a retired professional environmental engineer living near the Marshwalk. He and his wife serve on the Board of Directors of Preserve Murrells Inlet, Inc. and are regular volunteers on environmental projects sponsored by Murrells Inlet 2020. The opinions expressed here are his own.