Fireworks show will go on despite concern over eagles

By Pat Grubb

Despite an inchoate movement calling for the cancelation or re-location of Point Roberts’ traditional July fireworks out of concern for local eagles, the show will go ahead as planned, according to organizers. “The event is going to happen either on marina land or on a barge out on the water,” said Whitney McElroy, speaking on behalf of Breakwaters Bar & Grill. “I’ve already spoken with the county fire marshal who has indicated that it will be approved.”

The annual fireworks show requires approval by the fire marshal as well as a pyrotechnic insurance policy in order to go ahead. The subject was raised during the Point Roberts Taxpayers Association regular monthly meeting Wednesday night by board member Heidi Baxter who asked that it be put on the agenda. Chair Mark Robbins had agreed to the addition but asked the board to try to achieve consensus if they were going to wade into the issue, adding that it wasn’t necessary for the association to address every community subject that raises its head.

Robbins asked self-described eagle expert Jeff Butts to address the audience who then gave a lengthy overview of his experience. Butts said that he had been dealing with the problems faced by local eagles “for some time now,” adding that he knows all of the eagles’ names because he walks through their habitat 200 days a year. Butts has a website devoted to the eagles in Point Roberts: some of the nesting pairs are called Eos and Blake, Delphi and Calumet, Tango and Clash, and Athena and Qaysun. It’s not clear how Butts learned their names.

Butts told the audience that federal laws protecting eagles call for disturbances to be a minimum of one mile from an eagle nest if it is sited in open, non-treed areas. However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has National Bald Eagle Management Guidelines that categorizes disturbances by type and fireworks falls under Category H: Blasting and other loud, intermittent noises. The guideline states “Avoid blasting and other activities that produce extremely loud noises within ½ mile of active nests … This recommendation applies to the use of fireworks classified by the Federal Department of Transportation as Class B explosives, which includes the larger fireworks that are intended for licensed public display.”

According to McElroy, the nearest eagle nest is 0.82 miles away and located near the Shell Station on Tyee Drive. Butts agreed with that measurement but said it ignored the existence of an abandoned nest which was located much closer to the marina. While federal guidelines do apply to abandoned nests, they are less stringent than those dealing with active ones.

McElroy told the All Point Bulletin that he has been in communication with the FWS and that they had reiterated the half-mile buffer zone and had offered to provide standard monitoring protocols to see if the eagles responded to the fireworks.

The taxpayers association concluded the discussion by passing a motion to have Robbins email the marina, urging that the company follow all applicable federal eagle regulations. Baxter agreed with the motion, adding that it wasn’t only the eagles which concerned her but the effect of the fireworks on dogs and other animals. She urged the committee to read the recent United Nations report on humanity’s impact on bio-diversity (bit.ly/2bcCXvw).

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