July 11, 2012
The National Law Journal
 by Amanda Bronstad

An environmental group that has repeatedly sued over potential pollution caused from fireworks displays in San Diego is looking into the potential damage to local wildlife caused by this year’s July 4 show, which exploded all at once due to an apparent computer malfunction.

The Independence Day celebration, called the Big Bay Boom, which is launched from three barges in San Diego Bay, ended rather early when the entire show’s fireworks charges exploded virtually all at once. The private operator of the show, Garden State Fireworks, has blamed the malfunction on a technical problem.

Marco Gonzalez, managing partner of Coast Law Group in Encinitas, Calif., which represents the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation, said the massive explosion could have harmed an endangered bird species, the California Least Tern.

“We’re getting preliminary reports that at least one chick died that night, and there was significant increase in the stress response of that colony to this particular show,” Gonzalez said. “That’s just indicative of what could be happening at other sites around the bay, but we don’t know if we’re going to fully understand the impact of this year’s show.”

The Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation already is pushing for more comprehensive environmental reviews as part of the permitting process for fireworks shows over San Diego Bay. Last year, when operators of the Big Bay Boom tried to add a barge in the southern part of the bay, near the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, the foundation threatened to sue under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This year, the group already was pushing for more stringent environmental review of the show, particularly under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Permits for the Big Bay Boom are issued by the California Coastal Commission and the U.S. Coast Guard. Calls to those agencies were not returned.

“We have serious issues with the Big Bay Boom we’ll be bringing up with the Coast Guard,” Gonzalez said.

The foundation already has five lawsuits pending against the city of San Diego over the permitting of another July 4 fireworks show in La Jolla Cove, just north of downtown. That area is adjacent to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Ecological Park, a designated area of special biological significance, Gonzalez said.

“It’s one of the more sensitive and highly protected offshore areas, not just in San Diego but the state,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to designate an area as sensitive and protected and one day a year take a blind eye, with pounds and pounds of toxic chemicals going under the water.”

Proposed legislation to exempt fireworks shows in San Diego from extensive environmental reviews under the California Environmental Quality Act failed last month in the California Legislature.

Contact Amanda Bronstad at [email protected].