MOUNT RUSHMORE, S.D. (KELO) — A fireworks consultant concluded in November that it was safe for a fireworks display and pyrotechnic show at Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
Charles P. Weeth is fireworks consultant with expertise in legal and regulatory matters, according to his website Weeth & Associates. Weeth has 35-years of experience in fireworks evaluation and displays, according a bio included in the contract and review material.
The July 3 fireworks show at Mount Rushmore will differ from prior fireworks shows in some key areas, according to the more than 40 page review by Weeth included in the July 3 fireworks contract and guidelines from the state of South Dakota.
“Any such show will be different from the previous fireworks displays, which
were not in compliance with national fire codes and best practices, as well as
Federal and state laws,” Weeth wrote in his report.
Fireworks were first launched at Mount Rushmore in 1998 and had various years off because of fire concerns. The last display was in 2009. Concerns about pine beetle infestation, fire hazard and environmental issues stopped fireworks until this year.
Weeth’s report discusses concerns the National Park Service had in 2009 and several concerns he reached in a review of the site.
“Essentially with a fireworks display, one is inviting thousands of people to attend an outdoor event, in the dark, which in and of itself presents many challenges,” Weeth wrote in his report. Spectators “are close as permitted to see large projectiles fired into the sky, where they will explode with solid chemicals burning at 800- 1,000° C while spreading out high in the sky…”
The NPS was concerned about spectator safety, fire hazards and the negative impact of unused fireworks and used material on the environment as well as other issues.
Former Mount Rushmore superintendent Cheryl Scheier said in a KELOLAND News story by Perry Groten that environmental concerns are one reason the fireworks stopped after 2009. It’s also a reason why the fireworks should not happen this year, she said.
Schreier, who was superintendent from 2010 to 2019 says as late as last year, she was still finding fireworks debris around the memorial.
“Anytime it would rain, you would still find all of the debris from fireworks, plastics, I’ve actually seen plastics that have been embedded in the sculpture itself, in front, from fireworks,” Schreier said.
Weeth writes about debris found years after a fireworks display and about markings left on memorial rocks from the discharge of fireworks. He included specific recommendations about the type of fireworks and casings for aerial fireworks and discharge areas in his report.
The NPS followed up on Weeth’s November report with some of its own recommendations in December.
The contract and the scope of work provided for Pyro Spectaculars of Rialto, California, includes specific guidelines for fireworks that appear to address concerns from 2009 and recommendations from Weeth and the NPS.
The final design and display area must be approved by the contracting official (CO) and NPS.
Requirements include protecting park resources and making sure fire extinguishers are readily available.
Shells, mortars and other articles pyrotechnic will follow guidelines and any variation must be approved by the NPS. Also, every effort should be made for aerial fireworks to have biodegradable casings.
The state will require the contractor to pick up debris including returning with five days of the display or sooner if directed by the CO, to check the condition of the area.
Not only are fire, safety and environmental recommendations included in the contract so are specific details about how the fireworks display will look and sound.
“The display shall consist of a grand opening, aerial and/or proximate pyrotechnic display and grand finale,” the scope of work said.
And it should “consist of a spectacular, continuous, aerial fireworks display at the Memorial,” the scope of work said.
The state also specified a patriotic theme.
Details also include a guideline for the type of music to be used.
The music must be upbeat, contemporary and patriotic. The display should complement the music.
The music must be approved by the state’s CO.
Here’s another detail from the scope of work, “The music shall be; mixed in accordance
with industry standards, utilize fade in/out where appropriate, music styles and
tempos shall be complementary as they transition (shall not be abrupt), and the
music shall have a seamless and logical flow from beginning to end.”
In its proposal to the state Pyro Spectaculars said it understands the challenges of a fireworks show in a national park. It said the company has experience in working in similar challenging environments.
The contract for the fireworks provider also includes provisions for cancellation.
The contract says the event can be cancelled up until 7 p.m. for bad weather.
If the event is canceled on July 3, the contractor would likely be paid 90% of the cost, according to the contract provisions.
The contract also include a provision for cancelling because of the coronavirus pandemic. That cancellation would have been needed by 12 p.m. on July 1.