A lawsuit settlement reached Monday evening allows the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority to continue its Fourth of July and Labor Day fireworks shows, highly popular events that draw tens of thousands of tourists to Tahoe’s South Shore.
“We’re really happy we got a settlement and can keep the fireworks. But we’re just as happy that we have greater awareness of the pollution and what we need to do to have better cleanups,” said Joan Truxler, who with her husband Joseph sued LTVA after large amounts of fireworks debris washed up on area beaches last summer. “We’re thrilled we got it settled. That’s what we all wanted.”
The Truxlers filed their Clean Water Act lawsuit against LTVA and Pyro Spectaculars North, the fireworks show operator, last November, alleging that they and neighbors collected more than 8,000 pieces of fireworks debris on beaches near their PineWild home on Marla Bay.
The lawsuit alleged the debris is a pollutant under federal law and sought to require the LTVA 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and high costs to defend itself, LTVA threatened to pull the plug on this year’s fireworks shows unless the lawsuit was withdrawn by Friday. The parties met for a settlement conference in U.S. District Court in Sacramento and reached an agreement that calls for increased local agency oversight of cleanup efforts.
“We wanted to thank everyone for their big efforts toward conclusion and we feel this is a big win for our community in more ways than one,” Carol Chaplin, director of LTVA, said in a formal statement.
As part of the settlement, best management practices will be prepared for the fireworks shows and made public. Fireworks barges will move a short distance to the Nevada side of the lake and be permitted and overseen by Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District. There also will be a hotline for people to report fireworks-related complaints.
In their lawsuit, the Truxlers alleged local agencies, as well as the bistate Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, did not adequately respond to their complaints about fireworks debris. That is when the Truxlers decided to file their lawsuit.
“Within 24 hours of someone calling or emailing, someone will be sent out to check on debris or anything having to do with the fireworks,” Truxler said about the new hotline. “We now will have a central hotline to give people a voice, and it will be enforced by the fire department, so the voices now will have to be heard.”
Another proposed change is creation of a Tahoe beautification committee. It would organize business leaders, nonprofit groups, service clubs and individuals that all have expressed interest in helping clean up after fireworks shows, but also function as a year-round effort to clean up area beaches.
“Everyone can come together and put their name on a calendar for what day their group will walk beaches and pick up any debris. We are excited to participate and we can show other great towns and cities that we will be a leader in this,” Truxler said.
The Truxlers were harshly criticized at an emergency LTVA meeting last Thursday by various officials as well as numerous citizens. The couple reported getting threatening phone calls and security at PineWild was increased as a result.
“Since that public meeting the phone hasn’t stopped (ringing). But what we’re really excited about is the negative messages we have gotten have slowly turned into a barrage of positive responses, and that’s growth. That’s our Tahoe, and we love it,” Truxler said.
Several members of the South Lake Tahoe City Council met with the Truxlers at their house this weekend and thanked them Tuesday after the settlement was reached. While not a party in the lawsuit, city officials offered to do what they could to allow fireworks shows to continue and ensure they are adequately cleaned up. On Tuesday, officials expressed confidence that both goals could be accomplished.
Councilwoman Brooke Laine said the Truxlers showed her the fireworks debris they were finding not only on Marla Bay but down the length of Nevada State Beach. Laine said she regularly visits the park and never saw any debris there.
“She told me how I could find it. I went down the same day, looked for myself and found the exact components of fireworks she was talking about — and it’s March,” Laine said.
“So I want to thank the Truxlers for bringing forth an issue we didn’t know was there. If I could walk down the beach and not see it. Thank you to them. Their intention was never to get rid of the fireworks, but for protection (of the lake.) If they’ve done nothing else, they’ve educated at least one person in this community.”