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December 08, 2016
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Board shoots the messenger; fireworks ‘fiasco’ blamed on newspaper

Laurie Stuart, publisher of The River Reporter speaks to the assembled crowd at the Tusten Town Board meeting on July 8.

Almost everyone seemed to accept that since about 2007 when the eagles first built their nest on a tree in the Flats, the fireworks in Narrowsburg have been carried out in violation of a federal law, which could have carried a $200,000 fine.

At the Tusten town meeting on July 9, Bruce Gettel, the member of the Lava Fire Company who was to be in charge of the display this year, briefly argued that technically the displays were not a violation, but everyone else seemed to accept the determination of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that they were.

Members of the Tusten Town Board, however, who vote to allow the road closure for the event every year, found no fault with the three organizations that were responsible for hosting the fireworks during that time, but instead leveled their fire at The River Reporter for reporting the story in a time frame that, in their view, didn’t allow them enough time to find an alternative location for the fireworks this year.

Council member Tony Ritter was the most vocal and persistent critic in this regard, saying several times that he felt “betrayed” that the newspaper did not inform the board about the story until June 15, when the staff knew about the situation as early as July 2011.

In fact, after a resident said an eagle was found stranded the day after the 2011 fireworks, the newspaper made inquiries to the Narrowsburg Chamber of Commerce, who sponsored the event last year, and the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), but could not get a conclusive answer about whether the fireworks constituted a violation of federal law. The
newspaper picked up the story again when an announcement about the fireworks appeared in the Narrowsburg News column in June, and the first attempt to contact supervisor Carol Wingert was made on June 12.

For her part, Wingert created a timeline about what she did to try to save the fireworks after first hearing about the matter on June 15. Her actions included an attempt to move the display up the river to Rick Lander’s camping area, but he declined.

At one point Ritter asked if anyone from the newspaper wanted to respond to the criticism being leveled at it. Laurie Stuart, the publisher, said in her nearly 35 years at the paper, “The River Reporter has broken stories that nobody liked, the first one being that Cortese Landfill was in Narrowsburg … it was something that everyone knew about, but no one was talking about.”

She also asked, after making inquiries with the involved organizations about the matter, if it is the newspaper’s responsibility to remind them that there could be an issue with the eagles?

Several residents suggested that the picture of the young eagle that appeared in the newspaper had not actually fallen out of the nest because of the fireworks, and one said that young eagles are sometimes pushed out of the nest by their parents.

On the other hand, a letter from Kathy Michell, the town clerk who is also a wildlife rehabilitator, and worked as a bald eagle specialist for the DEC from 1999 to 2009, was read and it said that a young eagle was found seriously injured with a broken femur after the fireworks in 2009, “most likely the result of crashing into something in the dark.” The letter said then-supervisor Ben Johnson recognized the need for a change of location for the fireworks, but he left office at the end of the year, and the matter was not pursued.

Ned Lang, who is running for a position on the town board in the fall, and who has made the defeat of the proposed esplanade one of the central pillars of his campaign, asked, “If the fireworks aren’t allowed to be set off close to the eagle’s nest, how then are you going to undertake a project for the esplanade, when you’re definitely going to have blasting jackhammers, a lot of hard and heavy work, close to an eagle’s nest; doesn’t that pretty much preclude any more work being done on an esplanade?”

Wingert responded, “No, if there were blasting to be done, obviously it can’t be done. Our engineering firm does have the law, I forwarded it to them, and he said they were already fully aware of it and took it into consideration early on.”

Several people mentioned that the cancellation of the fireworks had a negative impact on the local economy, and Stanley Harper said the Main Street merchants supported the fireworks, and had been negatively impacted. Yet, when Ritter suggested forming a committee to work on finding a new location for the fireworks next year, members of the chamber declined, as did Gettel from the Lava Fire Department.

A member of the Narrowsburg Fire Department suggested that the town send formal letters inviting the organizations to join the committee.

One of the last comments about the matter came from highway superintendent Glenn Swendsen, who said, “Everybody’s upset, everybody’s mad, there’s no fireworks, everybody’s trying to blame somebody. But you’ve got to face the fact, it was a federal law, whether you agree with it or not, we didn’t know about it. Now we know about it, we can’t do it. “
He said the town should work together to find a new place to hold the fireworks next year.

Fireworks cancellation

I have been spending summers since 1994 or 1995 when my family discovered this beautiful part of the state and its pristine river. We love the peacefulness of the landscape, the community, the beauty of the national park, and the bald eagles that nest here.

As a visitor, I do not think any less of the community to have skipped the fireworks one fourth of July. It does not make me want to go somewhere else to spend my money. I am happily patronizing all of the businesses here just as before the fireworks were cancelled.

It is unfortunate that the Lava Fire Department were not informed by the previous supervisors of the fireworks, and that they are now stuck with the bill of paying for explosives they could not use. But if the fireworks injured a dog or a cat, would we not be equally concerned that it not happen again? Given the strength of the explosives, it is only right to protect a bird nest with a species that means so much to the community.

I support the writers who were doing their job by reporting about the disturbance the fireworks made to the eagle nest. I sympathize with the businesses who feel an opportunity was lost this one year, but I am confident that a suitable place will be found by next year so that the tradition of the fireworks can continue.

As a sometimes contributor to this newspaper, I am proud of the tradition of independent reporting that it maintains, and I congratulate the whole staff for doing a great job year after year.

Norm, wake up!

Good to see a picture of Norm, asleep, or, awake!

A Marvelous Photo

Fritz Meyer should be recommended for a Pulitzer for the photo on the cover of this weeks issue. August Rodin would also be proud! Such a perfect capture of the attitudes involved!