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July 4th fireworks eyed at TTHS

ANNE GROGAN, Sierra Sun

Although a citizens’ committee continues to meet to discuss the future of the Fourth of July fireworks display, the future appears uncertain for a future fireworks site inside the town limits.

For several months, the committee has been working to ensure that a safe fireworks display is held on the Fourth of July. Officials from the Truckee Fire Protection District, the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and the California Highway Patrol have been in attendance at each of the committee’s meetings.

The citizen’s committee formed after last year’s Fourth of July festivities became a source of public comment and concern, following a mini-riot outside the West End Beach in which a Nevada County Sheriff’s deputy was injured. Other officers were threatened by the crowd and traffic was gridlocked, hampering emergency access to Donner Lake. The injured deputy had to be air-lifted from the scene to receive medical attention.

West End problems

“West End Beach just became untenable with the alcohol and violence,” Chief Mike Terwilliger of the Truckee Fire Protection District said, “Safety is our primary concern.”

The Truckee Fire Protection District announced after last year’s disturbance that it would refuse to issue a fireworks permit for West End Beach unless necessary safety issues were addressed.

The committee began to seek alternative sites for the fireworks after it became clear that access problems with the West End Beach could not be resolved.

“After having reviewed all potential sites in and around the Town of Truckee, our committee has determined that the only viable location for this year’s annual fireworks is at the Tahoe-Truckee High School,” Charlie White, acting chairperson of the citizen’s committee, wrote in his summary of Monday night’s meeting.

According to White’s summary, preliminary inquiries with the school district have not been received very favorably. Principal Dennis LeBlanc of Truckee high school did not return calls for comment on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Councilmember Maia Schneider, who has attended many of the fireworks committee meetings, said the school district has not made a positive response to the issue, but also has not been presented with a complete plan yet.

“Steve Randall spoke briefly with Dennis LeBlanc and [Superintendent] Pat Gemma,” Schneider said. “At first blush, they did not respond favorably. But that was not a definitive conversation.”

She said the committee plans to diligently pursue Surprise Stadium as a site for the fireworks display.

“That is the location which makes the most sense at this point,” Schneider said. “We are hoping to get the community and school district on board.”

While public safety agencies are not particularly enthused, they do not appear to have major problems with the high school as a location for the fireworks.

“The high school was not our preferred site, but it is a workable site,” Ken Duncan of the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office said, “We foresee a significant problem with trespassing, parking, and alcohol related issues. From our perspective, Boreal Ridge is the ideal site.”

Ron Wolfe, public affairs officer for the California Highway Patrol said that officially, CHP doesn’t have a stand on the fireworks issue. Wolfe said that CHP has tried to have a representative at each Fourth of July committee meeting to try to remain informed as to the committee’s decisions, to try to prepare for the holiday weekend.

CHP will have maximum staffing throughout the Fourth of July weekend, according to Wolfe.

Regarding the suggestions of either Boreal Ridge or the Truckee high school as potential sites for a fireworks display, Wolfe said, “We foresee the exact same problem at either site because they’re both right there on Interstate 80. Freeway traffic slowing and stopping would be a problem.”

Discussing the high school as a proposed site for the fireworks display, Terwilliger said, “The only other open area is the airport. And fireworks there are simply not feasible. The high school would meet the concerns of the fire department.”

Selection of a site for the fireworks display may not be the most challenging task facing the citizen’s Fourth of July committee, however.

Finding an organization to sponsor a fireworks display could be the committee’s greatest challenge.

The Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce has announced that for the first time in seven years, it will not be sponsoring the fireworks display.

Rachelle Pellissier, chamber president and CEO, said “We’re a little worried about having that many people in one place at one time. We’re ready to pass the torch.” The chamber of commerce will, however, continue to sponsor Truckee’s annual Fourth of July parade, Pellissier said.

Schneider said a plan proposed by Randall would divide the Fourth of July events among different locations.

“We could have a family-oriented event at the Truckee River Regional Park, then have the fireworks somewhere else,” she said. “His idea was to see if any service clubs would be willing to take on the barbecue and family event. Then we would still be looking for a group to do the fireworks.”

She said other proposals include having the high school band perform before the fireworks in Surprise Stadium.

“Also, no alcohol is allowed on the school grounds and it would be easier to control than the West End Beach, where people could bring in alcohol by boat,” Schneider said. She said businesses along Donner Pass Road could charge for parking, and Donner Pass Road would allow easy access and departure from the fireworks.

News editor John A. Bayless contributed to this story.

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