Settlement saves Tahoe fireworks |

Settlement saves Tahoe fireworks

by Tom Lotshaw
Fourth of July fireworks are shown on the South Shore, as seen from Lakeview Commons.
Trisha Leonard | Tahoe Daily Tribune file

A lawsuit settlement has been reached allowing Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority to continue its Fourth of July and Labor Day fireworks shows.

“The parties are pleased that a settlement to dismiss the lawsuit was reached that will allow the Fourth and Labor Day shows to continue with increased local agency oversight of the post show cleanup of fireworks debris and a hotline for residents to contact if they see fireworks debris from the shows that needs to be cleaned up,” Joan Truxler wrote in an email Monday evening.

Truxler and her husband, Joseph, filed a Clean Water Lawsuit against the authority and Pyro Spectaculars North last November, alleging large amounts of fireworks debris washed up on beaches near their PineWild home following last year’s shows.

The lawsuit alleged that fireworks debris is a pollutant under federal law and sought to require the authority to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit for its shows.

Potentially facing tens of millions of dollars in civil penalties and high costs to defend itself against the lawsuit, authority threatened to pull the plug on this year’s fireworks shows if a deal could not be reached by April 4. The fireworks shows are a 35-year tradition on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore.

The parties met for settlement talks in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. Carol Chaplin, director of authority confirmed the settlement.

“We wanted to thank everyone for their efforts toward conclusion and we feel this is a big win for our community in more ways than one,” Chaplin said.

The Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, in an emergency board meeting last week, unanimously voted to cancel this year’s and future fireworks celebrations unless the lawsuit was settled.

“Our highest priority is still the health of the Lake,” Joan Truxler said last week.

The Truxlers were harshly criticized at the meeting last Thursday by various officials as well as numerous citizens. The couple reported getting threatening calls, and security was increased at PineWild as a result.

Many people lined up to speak at the meeting in support for the fireworks shows. They ranged from local business owners and long-time residents to city, county and California and Nevada officials. They all encouraged the authority to continue its fireworks shows, stressed the economic and community importance of the shows.

Alleging the debris is a pollutant under federal law, the lawsuit sought to require the authority to acquire a national pollutant discharge elimination system permit for its fireworks shows — something not required anywhere else in the country, proponents said.

“There is not a court in the country that has issued an opinion that the Clean Water Act is applicable to intermittent fireworks shows,” authority attorney Lew Feldman said.

In the past, the visitors authority has asked both the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control board if it needed such a permit and was told it did not, Feldman said.

Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki offered to personally help pick up after this year’s fireworks shows if needed. It was an offer shared by nearly 200 other people who attended Thursday’s meeting.

“This event is so important economically that we must do all we can to preserve it. Our family will volunteer July 5 to walk up and down the beach to make sure remnants are fully cleaned up,” Krolicki said. “It would be a tragedy, travesty and financial disaster if these fireworks were canceled for the Fourth of July.”

The authority estimates visitors over the two holiday periods contribute upwards of $35 million in lodging, retail sales, activities and attractions.