Fireworks over fireworks dominate council meeting

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All aldermen were present for the first Eureka Springs City Council meeting in June with the exception of Mickey Schneider, due to illness, and the house seats were packed – at least until the fireworks ordinance amendment was passed, then most of the audience walked out. 

The explosive ordinance amendment was first introduced at the last council meeting and had the full backing of Mayor Butch Berry. The ordinance amendment was rushed through the procedural process due to the approach of Independence Day.

The amendment would allow city employees to operate fireworks within city limits for a fireworks display tentatively scheduled for Saturday, July 6.  Parks Director Justin Huss said there would be deep discount pricing on fireworks since it would be two days after the 4th of July. 

Last month the amendment was read and unanimously approved twice before aldermen could adequately poll constituents of their opinion of explosives inside the city limits and potentially above their homes.  On Monday night, June 10, after news of the twice-passed amendment, resident Tracellen Kelly started the conversation of fireworks over downtown during Public Comments by cautioning council to slow down and think about how this affects the citizens. 

Kelly said she had previously spoken to various aldermen regarding this ordinance who she said, “[the aldermen] didn’t even really know where this was going to happen” but voted for it anyway. She also said that one alderman even said, “This is a tourist town and it will bring in tourists.”

Kelly replied, “Yes, but do you all realize this is a city where people live also? It is not always about the tourists,” alluding to the fact that it’s not tourists who vote for public officials. 

Berry restated Eureka is a tourist town and this ordinance amendment is for the tourists. 

Kelly also drew attention to the people who live here who suffer from PTSD as well as the pets in the area who may be traumatized by loud explosions. Two residents on Nova Street also expressed their “No” vote to fireworks downtown in a letter to an alderman, and resident Susan Porter of Pine Street wrote a poignant letter to the council saying, “I can think of no compelling reason why we should undo an ordinance that disallows fireworks in our historic district.” Porter said Eureka Springs was established as a place of rest, relaxation and healing, and for our veterans, fireworks can have a horrible impact. 

“Please ask yourself, ‘Why would I change an ordinance for an unsubstantiated emergency idea to allow fireworks within our precious historic district?’” she said. Porter urged council, “Please, let’s keep fireworks as far from our city as possible.”

Alderman Melissa Greene asked Huss about these residents’ concerns. Huss, a driver behind the ordinance approval along with Berry, said that the fireworks display will only be 15 minutes long, he understands the concerns for the veterans, and he takes his dog to his mom’s house when he sets off fireworks at home.

Greene asked if any notice was scheduled to notify the public of this event, Huss asked why he would do that if the event had not been approved yet? Greene asked Huss why the Parks commission had not voted on this at a regularly scheduled meeting, and Huss replied that it was discussed during budget workshops which he felt was sufficient. 

Greene asked about parking, and Huss shrugged his shoulders and said they will be able to see the display from all over downtown and said it would be nothing more than, “parade night traffic wise.” Greene then asked about fire safety and Huss said the location where the fireworks would be discharged on Marble Flats was basically all rock, and fire safety had been discussed with the ES Fire Department. 

When Greene posed the question of why we would adopt an ordinance for one event, rather than a short-term resolution, aldermen Harry Meyer and Terry McClung both laughed and discounted her diligence for informed decision making. McClung said the point of this ordinance amendment was not about the event next month and “we should approve it to give the city permission to set off fireworks.” 

Meyer agreed and said he wanted fireworks. After receiving the rebuke, Greene stopped her questioning and was the only alderman to vote against the ordinance amendment. Neither a single public comment nor letter written from a resident was in favor of fireworks within city limits. 

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