Florida Keys News
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Fireworks delayed over too-close boats

Patriotism got stuck on "island time" Friday night.

The annual Fourth of July fireworks at the White Street Pier started almost one hour late due to safety concerns about several boats that were positioned too close to the staging area.

Organizers set the start time for "after 9 p.m." but the sky didn't light up until almost 9:55 p.m., several spectators said.

The Rotary Club of Key West works year-round to raise money for the annual show near Higgs Beach that can draw some 5,000 people to the shoreline.

Volunteers who put together the day-long festivities, including a 5K run and a fair in Indigenous Park, were as dismayed as those who left before the fireworks finally began, club President Elizabeth MacLaughlin said.

"We had a lot of people who didn't like the delay," said MacLaughlin, who led the volunteer effort behind the fireworks celebration. "I saw a lot of people walking away, going home. A lot of people had to work today."

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokesman Officer Bobby Dube said the agency had no involvement in moving any boats near the pier, and the Coast Guard's spokesman did not return two phone messages left Saturday.

But MacLaughlin said Rotary Club members started making calls at 6:30 p.m. when it became clear that boats were too close to the edge of the pier where the pyrotechnic company had set up for the night.

But the waters weren't declared clear until more than three hours later, she said, despite their efforts to call every agency they could think of.

"We were panicking," MacLaughlin said.

Rotarians tried to make the best of a difficult situation, she said, and by her recollection the fireworks were ready to go by 9:45 p.m.

Several locals said they didn't see any fireworks until a few minutes before 10 p.m. The show lasted about 20 minutes.

Since 1976, the local Rotary club that meets Thursdays at noon has paid for the fireworks, which this year cost almost $40,000.

Last fall, the city agreed for the first time to kick in some cash -- $5,000 that the club hasn't received yet.

MacLaughlin said that the fireworks show itself went off without a hitch after the delay.

"Other than that, they were beautiful," she said.

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