Surprise Stadium fireworks decision postponed until March | SierraSun.com
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Surprise Stadium fireworks decision postponed until March

ANNE GROGAN, Sierra Sun

The Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District board decided last Thursday to postpone until March a decision on whether Surprise Stadium will be the site of the 1999 Fourth of July fireworks display.

Poor access is the primary reason Donner Lake’s West End Beach cannot be the site of Truckee’s annual fireworks display, according to local fire department officials. A disturbance outside last year’s event, in which a sheriff’s deputy was injured, prompted the decision, which resulted in the formation of a citizens’ fireworks committee.

Bob French, spokesperson of the citizens’ fireworks committee, addressed the Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District board Thursday to request that the Tahoe-Truckee High School football stadium be the site of Truckee’s 1999 Fourth of July fireworks display.

“It’s an extraordinary event, especially for our size community,” French said. “Last year’s events threaten to destroy this community event. In response to fire district demands, the (fireworks) committee formed and there is only one location within town that public officials think is workable.” That location is Surprise Stadium.

In his introductory statement, French said the fireworks display would require use of Surprise Stadium from around 8 until 10:30 p.m. State fire marshal regulations would place the discharge site outside the stadium, southeast of the south endzone, French said, and the stadium would be reserved for those in paid attendance. The committee plans to encourage people to pay to enter the stadium by offering a barbecue, the high school jazz band, or other enticing attractions, French said.

“We will rely on the honor system of the public,” French added.

The Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce, which has sponsored fireworks in past years, will not sponsor the event this year but will continue to sponsor the Fourth of July parade.

French said the fireworks committee anticipates fewer people will attend this year’s fireworks display because, unlike previous years, there will be no pre-fireworks celebration on site. Instead, Fourth of July events will be dispersed throughout Truckee to help diminish the number of those who attend the fireworks display.

The fireworks committee also discussed announcing through newspapers in Reno and Sacramento that Donner Lake fireworks have been canceled, French said.

“The Fourth of July is the second largest holiday of the year in Tahoe,” board member Karen Van Epps said. “They’ll be here. They’ll know. To have a locals-only event on a holiday weekend is unrealistic.”

Board member John Wojcik said that July is typically when the high school football field is reseeded, a time when walking across the field is prohibited, and asked how the committee might be prepared to deal with that situation.

French responded that the fireworks committee would “absolutely” commit $500 to field maintenance and perhaps more if necessary.

If the event is held at Surprise Stadium, French said, the fireworks committee would invite local school groups to help with fee parking.

“Local youth groups will stand to benefit from the event,” French said.

The issue of liability insurance dominated the fireworks discussion, however.

Injuries sustained in incidents like the Tahoe City explosion during the 1998 Tahoe City July Fourth fireworks display are insurance responsibilities, Van Epps said.

“You’re always going to get the crowd maybe you didn’t hope to get,” Van Epps said.

“We know there’s a risk of public injury at any public event,” French said. “What you do is eliminate the risks of harm.” He added “We are prepared to offer adequate liability coverage. Don’t deny our request because of liability fears.” French said that special event insurance coverage is available.

“Without a doubt there will be $2 million available with the possibility of $5 million,” he said.

Funding for the special event insurance coverage would not come from the entrance fee, French said, but would in part be funded through parking fees collected at the event and through the financial assistance of local businesses.

Superintendent Dr. Patrick Gemma said that he had spoken with the school district’s insurance providers to determine whether the district’s liability insurance excludes coverage for fireworks events and said the providers did not believe there was a fireworks exclusion. The providers would research the terms of the district’s coverage, he said.

The TTUSD is part of a self-insured group, Gemma said, whose underwriters would put in writing that they would be “very unhappy” with fireworks display responsibility. That would not prevent TTUSD from proceeding with a fireworks event, however, Gemma said.

“If we’re bearing the cost for a community-based event, we need to remember this is Truckee, not Tahoe-Truckee,” TTUSD board member Suzanne Prouty said. She said that if there were a lawsuit filed as a result of a fireworks display, the TTUSD would be named in the suit as owners of the event site.

“Everybody I’ve talked to tried to talk me out of saying yes,” board member Mel Cone said. “I’m still kind of up in the air on this.”

Board member Doug Hamilton said he would like to see that Boreal Ridge has been ruled out as a potential site for the fireworks display before the school district considers approving the use of Surprise Stadium for the event.

“I’d also like to say that one of the most enjoyable days for me has been the Fourth of July at Donner Lake. It’s a wonderful community event,” Hamilton said.

“We’re asking for you to provide for the community at large,” French said in closing. “If you don’t give us this one shot, this event will die. Give us that chance. If we can’t handle it, we’ll go quietly into the night.”

The fireworks committee will continue to meet, and at the board’s request will research the possibility that Boreal become the site for Truckee’s Fourth of July fireworks.

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