By JOY CRIST
two years of no fireworks displays on Hatteras or Ocracoke
islands, it looks like fireworks are on the horizon again -- in Avon
village for 2012’s Independence Day.
two-year hiatus was caused by a horrific explosion on Ocracoke Island
on July, 4, 2009, in which four pyrotechnics workers died.
crew was unloading fireworks at the display site near the ferry docks
in the village.
a result, new restrictions were put in place that complicated local
efforts to proceed with the annual displays.
Brite, who spearheaded the annual Avon launch for 13 consecutive years,
made every effort possible to put on a show in 2010 and 2011, but the
logistics, funding, and new requirements eventually obstructed his
months of hard work. Similar efforts to bring back fireworks in
Ocracoke were also stymied.
the skies over the islands were dark for two Independence Days, except,
of course, for the dozens of amateur fireworks illegally launched off
the beach and from vacation homes to replace the former professionally
orchestrated display. The result was sporadic and unsafe firework
launchings that sent police cars and fire trucks racing up and down
Highway 12 for hours.
year, an island and countywide initiative to get fireworks back to
Hatteras Island has ignited support from local and federal government
officials and has already garnered donations from local organizations,
businesses, and individuals.
most importantly, the massive support has encouraged the National Park
Service to agree to allow a permit for the launching of fireworks off
fireworks from the beach is illegal. However, concessions will be made
for the Fourth of July as the Avon Pier is privately owned, and the
fireworks will be launched into the ocean, past the mean low-water
mark, and ergo outside of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore boundary.
was a summary of a letter that seashore superintendent, Mike Murray,
sent to Robin Mann, chairperson of the Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce,
county officials, U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C. and others who had
urged his blessing on the display.
there will still be permits that need to be issued, this
approval basically paves the way for the annual fireworks display to
are very happy, and we’re really making big progress,” says Rhonda
Roughton, current chairperson of the Hatteras-Ocracoke Council of Outer
Banks Chamber of Commerce. “It looks like things are starting to come
initiative started with a conversation between Joe Thompson of Spa Koru
and Drew Scalia of Hatteras Island Boardsports about how fireworks
needed to be brought back to Hatteras Island.
the Fourth of July week, our customers are all families with kids, and
our businesses have had so many guests come in who can’t believe that
the closest fireworks are in Nags Head,” says Thompson.
Thompson and Scalia started meeting and identifying what they needed to
do. They started working on the fireworks project on their own time,
starting in November, talking with pyrotechnic companies and trying to
sort out the new rules and regulations that had been implemented since
the rules had changed since the Ocracoke accident,” said Thompson. “We
were trying to understand what it would take, regulation-wise and
financially, to make it happen.”
took months to filter through the information, but once an action plan
was in place, and several pyrotechnic companies were on the short list
of possible display providers, Thompson presented the plan to both the
local Hatteras-Ocracoke Council of Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce and
the Outer Banks Chamber Commerce, where he serves on the board of
that same day, about three weeks ago, Thompson also contacted Steve
Thompson of the National Park Service to find out what needed to happen
to obtain permits. “Steve said ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen, but
you probably need to go up the ladder for that decision,’” says Joe
quick response was imperative, because now is the time when pyrotechnic
companies contract for the July 4 displays. If the process dragged on,
all the companies would be booked and no one would be available to do
Thompson, the council and chamber, and local representatives worked
fast to get the ball rolling.
Chamber of Commerce sent out a letter on behalf of residents and guests
to ask the Park Service to give their permission for the fireworks
display. The letter was copied to Rep. Walter Jones as well and others.
letter garnered an immediate response from Warren Judge, who made an
appointment the next day to meet with Murray. Jones also sent
immediate letter to Mike Murray indicating his support.
is my understanding that Dare County citizens are seeking National Park
Service approval for a safe, professional Fourth of July fireworks
display in the Village of Avon on Hatteras Island,” the letter reads.
“…I am writing to convey my strong support for that request.
you know, the focal point of the Hatteras Island economy is tourism.
Visitors expect to be able to take their families to a fireworks
display on the Fourth of July. The local economy was devastated by
Hurricane Irene and visitors don’t need additional reasons to choose
another place to vacation, particularly during the busy Fourth of July
Warren Judge and Allen Burrus met with Mike Murray to discuss the
fireworks and a number of other issues, Murray agreed during the
meeting to allow the professional launching of fireworks off the Avon
biggest hurdle to the annual display has been cleared, but there is
still a lot of work to do.
pyrotechnic company, trained and licensed in North Carolina, must
obtain the permits in order to launch, but the next goal for Thompson
and the Council is fundraising.
Outer Banks Visitors Bureau offers a reimbursement grant for community
fireworks displays. However, the grant must be filed by a non-profit or
government entity, such as a town. Thompson asked the Avon Property
Owners Association (APOA) and Pat Weston, president, if they would
assist in their fundraising and the APOA happily jumped on board.
was talking with Stewart Couch and Amy Helle of Hatteras Realty for
suggestions, and we agreed the APOA was a logical move. They are well
organized, meet regularly, and the fireworks benefits Avon owners and
residents,” says Thompson. “This was not meant to be a snub to anyone
else. There were many great organizations we could turn to for help. It
just seemed to be the best way to move forward.”
grant request was turned in two days before its February 15 deadline.
because the grant is a reimbursement grant and is not guaranteed, the
community still needs to raise $15,000 to pay for the display upfront.
Any recouped money from the grant will be seed money for next year’s
show, and then the following year, so that the community will be well
prepared for years to come.
has already been pledged individually from Hatteras Realty, Koru
Village, the Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative, and Ali Breaux of Sun
am 100 percent convinced that as generous as businesses, organizations,
and individuals are, we will be able to raise the funds,” says
Thompson. “What we have to focus on is making sure we meet the
regulatory and safety requirements so we don’t hit a snafu.”
a pyrotechnics company from Pennsylvania, will be coming to Hatteras
Island for a community meeting on March 15 to meet with the council and
anyone who wants to be involved. “This will be a round table meeting to
identify issues and the best way to go about solving them,” says
Thompson, “and everyone is welcome to attend.”
news for islanders is both sudden and exciting.
Brite gives the efforts and the upcoming show his blessing.
of my Fourth of Julys started at 6 a.m. and finished at 2 a.m., and
when you’re on the pier [launching fireworks] you don’t really get to
see the display. You have to look down [at the mortars], and you don’t
get many opportunities to look up.” says Brite. “I am looking forward
to being able to watch it with my family for a change.”
efforts will continue on Hatteras and Ocracoke islands in the months to
come to provide support for the upcoming Avon display. For 2012, Avon
will be hosting the only professional display.
for the display can be sent to APOA, PO Box 9, Avon, NC 27915.
checks can also be dropped off (with attn: Norm Campbell) at any of the
islands’ East Carolina Bank locations.
for Thompson, he is thrilled with the progress of the fireworks and
remains optimistic about the island’s future.
Island has taken its share of lumps in the past few years, whether it’s
from Mother Nature or from recent regulations and restrictions,” says
Thompson. “And while we certainly need to address these issues, we also
need to focus on positive things to make our community a better place
to live, and a better place to visit. And reinstating the Fourth of
July fireworks is a perfect example of this.”