A gap in communications led to problems following the annual Fourth of July fireworks display at the public beach on St. George Island as growing crowds lead to more refuse this year.
The Blue Parrot Ocean Front Café has sponsored a fireworks extravaganza on the island beach for 15 years at a cost of nearly $10,000 annually.
On July 4, hundreds gathered on the public beach and the Blue Parrot’s decks to enjoy fireworks sponsored by the beachfront eatery.
When the smoke settled and the party broke up, the beach was littered with scores of boxes now empty of fountains, sparklers and rockets and filled with remnants of fireworks they once contained.
Steve Rash, owner of the Blue Parrot said the debris cannot be collected and transported immediately both because it is sometimes smoldering and because the beach is crowded with audience members after the show. Volunteer firefighters, who shoot the fireworks, and Blue Parrot staff always drag the waste into a pile and leave it for the next morning. They did so this year.
A Rash employee who had agreed to clean the beach failed to come to work on the morning of July 5, and unusually high tide began to scatter the waste.
Jeanie Green and her 12-year-old daughter, members of the St. George Island Trash Patrol, were assigned an area which included the Blue Parrot to clean that morning. Green posted on Facebook that, since in the past, the Blue Parrot has cleaned its own area, she assumed they would do so this year.
Green wrote that when she and her daughter realized the trash was being over-washed by waves she made several phone calls but could find no help in removing the debris. They still attempted to do so, according to Green, but with limited success.
Solid Waste Director Fonda Davis said he spoke with Rash after a picture of the litter-covered beach circulated the county via social media.
According to Rash, the photo, which has since been taken down from Facebook, was posted by a beach vendor angry the county had failed to remove the fireworks from the beach. The county had confiscated the vendor’s merchandise on several occasions under the new “Leave No Trace” ordinance.
Davis said that, while the county employs workers to clean the beaches, they have regular duties to perform including cleaning bathrooms and had not yet visited the public beach when the photo circulated.
“Next year we’ll have better communication ahead of time and this won’t happen,” Davis said.
Rash said Blue Parrot employees worked with county employees to clean the beach by lunch time.
“We always clean our beach and pick up cans, bottles and other refuse, not just our fireworks,” he said.
Ada Long, organizer of the St. George Island Trash Patrol said most members of the patrol who volunteered on July 5 thought there was more debris than usual following the Independence Day celebration. She said the area west of Franklin Boulevard was the worst.
“We had a nice group of volunteers (16 including me), and they did a great pick-up job,” she said. “They didn't even complain despite the heat, which was fierce even at 8 a.m.
Volunteers this year were Beth Appleton, Dave Harbaugh, Barbara Sanders, W. K. Sanders, Ana Anthius, Betsy Nofziger, Val Tyll, Steve Tyll, Brook Tyll, Rusty Tucker, Marley Tucker, Chuck Lonbardo, Charles Smith, Mike Pearce and Carolyn Pearce.
“The worst stuff to pick up are balloon parts and plastic candy wrappers. Everybody complains about those.
“Water balloons not only leave the worst kind of trash, but they can be dangerous. If they hit little kids, they can really hurt. Apparently the people in the parade know better than to throw water balloons, and the spectators are the ones doing it,” Long said.
Although water balloons are banned during the St. George Island July 4 parade, many participants were observed tossing them.