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Appeals court hears Gualala fireworks dispute

Opposing attorneys in a lawsuit that pits sea birds against fireworks on the southern Mendocino Coast presented their arguments Monday in the San Francisco First District Court of Appeal.

The three-judge panel, which has 90 days to make a decision, did not indicate how it would rule, said Damien Schiff, an attorney with Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the organizers of the fireworks show, the Gualala Festivals Committee.

"If the court rules in our favor, we're planning on having fireworks" this year, said committee member Marshall Sayegh.

The foundation is challenging the California Coastal Commission's authority over a Gualala pyrotechnics show that was halted after two July 4 celebrations because of concerns about its effects on birds.

Opponents began complaining about the fireworks following the first fireworks display in 2006. Birds reportedly fled Gualala Point Island, which is part of the California Coastal National Monument Program and is protected by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The island is home to cormorants, black oyster catchers, Western gulls and pigeon guillemots.

A bureau study of the fireworks in 2007 found that nesting birds were disrupted about the time of the fireworks but did not definitively link it to the explosive display.

The Coastal Commission said the Gualala Festival Committee must obtain a permit before it could continue the show. Pacific Legal Foundation contends the study was flawed and that the Coastal Commission is not the proper agency to deal with fireworks.


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