California Coastal Commission may require display organizers to get permit for future shows

A controversial fireworks display in Gualala disrupted sea birds nesting on a federally protected near-shore island and startled others into flight, which may prompt scrutiny before next year's planned event.

"It looks like some bird nesting failed, and it seems to be related to the fireworks," said Bob Merrill, director of the North Coast District of the California Coastal Commission. "We would definitely not want that to be repeated."

Merrill said the impact was significant enough that the commission could require the Gualala Festivals Committee, which staged the July 6 fireworks show, to get a coastal development permit for next year.

The Sea Ranch Association, whose members were part of the monitoring team, also is asking the commission to require an environmental impact report.

The 18-minute fireworks display was part of a three-day Patriots Day celebration, attended by an estimated 3,000 people, that included Revolutionary War actors with muskets and cannon.

"We are trying to do something nice for the community and we are being attacked," said Marshall Sayegh, one of the organizers.

Sayegh said they plan to hold fireworks again next July 4.

The dispute centers around Gualala Point Island, a small island 100 yards offshore from Sea Ranch that is home to cormorants, black oyster catchers, Western gulls and pigeon guillemots.

The island is part of the California Coastal National Monument Program and is protected by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

Last year, the fireworks were opposed by some Gualala-area residents, led by Sea Ranch residents, who contended the previous year's show had a negative effect on the island's sea birds.

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