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Mar 19, 2010

Ernst: Fireworks threatened by an unlikely source

LOCATION: Englewood, USA
DATE: Friday, March 12, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
BY: Eric Ernst
DETAILS: Englewood's Fourth of July fireworks show is in jeopardy. Yes, you've heard that before.Not enough money, right? Wrong.

There's a new reason: gopher tortoises. Although fireworks have been staged for 20 years from Blind Pass Beach Park on Manasota Key, Sarasota County Parks and Recreation managers have withheld a permit this year because they fear the pyrotechnics will threaten nearby gopher tortoise burrows.

Now you may wonder how fireworks could possibly endanger a shell-encased animal that lives underground in what amounts to a natural bomb shelter and comes out only during the day.

As the news spread through town, Sunrise Rotary President John Mead probably summed up the reaction: "This is crazy. We can't celebrate the Fourth of July because of some turtles?"

First, a little history. Last year, Englewood had no July Fourth fireworks because the Jaycees, who had sponsored the event for years, couldn't raise $10,000. A lot of people were disappointed.

This year, Sunrise Rotary took over. A larger, more affluent club, it has promised a $30,000 show, the best Englewood has ever seen. Volunteers, such as Michael Looney and Ray LaBadie, have solicited sponsors, planned fundraising events and started making four-foot PVC rocket models to display in businesses to collect donations.

Momentum had started to build. And then this.

The problem started when county workers cleared Brazilian peppers and other exotics from the Lemon Bay side of the park.


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