Committee on the Environment? Read the R&B transcript:

April 7, 2013

March 18, 2013
Madison, Wisconsin

Full Verbatim Transcription of Committee on Environment (COE) Meeting, Item #1, Rhythm & Booms. Unedited.

Meeting began around 4:30pm.

Public comments on Agenda Item #1 (Transcriber Note: each member of the public gets three minutes):

Steven Fix (head of COE): Item #1, discussion of environmental impacts of fireworks residue. This is a discussion of the committee. We’re going to review comments and possibly make recommendations. If there are people who wish to make recommendations to the committee regarding the firework study, then we can allot them three minutes right now to do so. And then after that there will be the committee’s discussion regarding the comments that have been provided to us or that we’ve made, as well as the discussion and any potential recommendations that the committee chooses to make regarding the study. This will then go on to the city council. Whatever they do with it,  it’s up to them. So, I’ll take them in the order that I was given them. The first is Jack Hurst…

Jack Hurst: I’m Jack Hurst and I live about two and a half blocks from Warner Park. East Bluff wasn’t there, PDQ, the station. No buildings were around. I used to be able to see when I first moved there, 75 pheasants at one time down there. And over the years, things have built up and everything. I love to see the fireworks, when they came around, and enjoyed them with my family and everything, but the degradation that I’ve seen as the years went by  not only because of the fireworks, of course, but the city and the buildings that have been added…we’ve just really had a tough deal on the water quality and plants and everything that used to be in Warner Park. I fished down there many years, and my son has and there was just every kind of fish down there that you could possibly think. And if you think about it, the habitat for fish spawning in Lake Mendota isn’t really a lot. And Warner Park is an area that the fish like to come in there in the spring of the year, people line up at the entry to the lagoon every spring. And there aren’t too many places like that with shallow water and everything. Anyway, I’m going to get on with this. Here’s a few pictures just to show you how many fish there have been in Warner Park lagoon since the late 90s and early 2000s, we’ve had all kinds of fish kills in there. Who knows for what reason, but there’s some reason behind it and all I want to do is find out what it is. I’ve been working with the DNR and city of Madison for ten years trying to get the habitat where it used to be, at least to have some fish in there. We have kids fishing days down there, Yahara Fishing Club. We have 400 and some kids come down every year. I’d like to see that year-round down there but these fish kills and everything else that’s going on–it’s terrible–and I’d like to get to the bottom of it. (Hurst passes around photos of fish kills from 2007). They [fish kills] started in 1998 and every year there’s been one and right now there’s hardly any fish in there to die. DNR says lack of oxygen. But that’s part of the problem, that’s not all the problem. What I’d like to see–we’ve got two catch-basins in. The first year they took out 16,000 pounds of sand from the first catch-basin…money donated from the fishing expo to upgrade the lagoons. The habitat’s been lost around the edges. We want to fix that up. And why are we losing this habitat? There has to be a reason. That’s why we had a study done for the lakes. Some way or other we’ve got to come to some conclusions.

Fix: What has the DNR said about the apparent fish kills? They think it’s oxygen?

Hurst: Well they’ve said that plus other things. Fireworks definitely have an impact.

Fix: But have they done any grinding of the fish to find out what has been found?

Hurst: They’ve done some studies. I think somebody else will talk about that in a little bit. They’ve got more evidence than I do on that. But someday I’d like to be able to see instead of a one-day event ruining or partially-ruining or whatever effect it does have on the fish, I’d like to see kids down there fishing  every day, doing some kind of activity, like catching frogs or be able to wade in the water without having to worry about the health department saying, no you can’t do that. And there has to be a reason for what’s going on down there. And over the years, I’m sure the fireworks, uh…

Fix: Thank you very much.

Weier: These are all pictures of fish kills?

Hurst: Yes.

Fix: Next is Lucy Mathiak…

Mathiak: When I signed in I was supposed to say whether I was pro or con. And I’m not. I’m proposing something. I like fireworks. I’ve gone to Rhythm and Booms in the past. But they got my attention this last year because when I went to the dog park there was an amazing amount of debris that I was picking up as Anita [Weier] can tell you because she’s been at many meetings when I’ve shared the wealth. I was still picking up crap in December: fuses,  pieces of shells and so forth. And that really bothers me because it’s an area where we have herons, and sandhill cranes and a number of frogs and all sorts of things that really aren’t meant to be cohabiting with fireworks debris, including the chemical residues. They don’t just go away. I’m sorry–they just don’t.  And if you like, I’d be happy to send everyone a nice big bag of this stuff.

What I want to propose is very simple. There are three things:

1. I would like since it does appear that the city has a done-deal on the 2013 Rhythm and Booms, that the site be moved so that it’s not in the middle of a wetland. I don’t understand why fireworks have to be shot from that island. I can guarantee you that the scientific practice does not dictate doing burns in the middle of summer.

2. I propose the Environment Committee work with the Parks Department to create a conservancy area that will protect the natural areas of Warner. There are plenty of groomed areas with lots of room to play. But the natural areas are special, also, and ought to be protected and they simply aren’t right now.

3. And then I hope that those of you who might be part of the county study of the Yahara chain of lakes integrate the issue of  whether fireworks have a negative impact on the environment into that work. Because it’s not just Warner lagoon–this is part of the Yahara chain. So what are we doing, folks?

I thought about this as I was coming up. I was waiting for my bus and there was a nice “Dump No Waste” drains-to-lake sign right at the bus stop, and it struck me as ironic that if I dropped a Kleenex there, I would be doing a bad thing but we can dump 13,000 shells worth of debris and residue into our water system, in a natural habitat, and the city doesn’t care. So I would propose that we start caring and take an opportunity to look at how these are set up, how they’re launched, so that for future generations, we’ve all done due diligence on stewardship. I’m not saying stop the fireworks. I’m saying, site them differently. Thank you.

Fix: Next we have Trish O’Kane…

My name is Trish O’Kane. I’m doing doctoral research on Warner Park and Warner wetland. I also teach environmental studies at UW-Madison. Once a week, I take my undergraduates to Warner to work with middle school students in an outdoor program called “Nature Explorers.”

In 2011, five days after Rhythm and Booms, my summer interns organized a “Water World” exploration in Warner. Over two dozen neighborhood kids showed up. They splashed. They squealed. They caught water bugs.

And then, two student interns noticed a strange metallic sheen on the water. When I contacted the Public Health department, I received this email: “My recommendation would be to not come into contact with the sediment; however, if your class needs to contact it, then proper handwashing should be completed as soon as possible.”

To tell our children to wash their hands after playing in any of our waters is unacceptable. I want to thank all of you on this committee for doing the job that our Public and Environmental Health authorities have failed to do. Thank you for standing up for the public good. Thank you for conducting these studies. As environmental stewards you have initiated a process to protect all of Madison waters from perchlorate contamination. Here are some questions and suggestions and proposals.

First, a 2007 Massachusetts Health Department study, which examined a site where fireworks had been launched for 11 consecutive years, found that perchlorates migrate. After 11 years in the same place, scientists discovered that the perchlorates had contaminated wellwater.

This city has been firing pollutants into Warner’s wetland for 20 years. The wetland has at least two springs. The wetland flows into Mendota. And there is at least one private drinking well near this wetland. The city has never tested this well for perchlorates.

So how does the city know that perchlorates are not leaching into groundwater if the city has not tested private wells? Also, what impact could the contaminants have on the two springs in Warner’s wetland? And on the outlet to Mendota, where a lot of people fish?

Secondly, I contacted Richard Wilkin, an EPA geochemist and perchlorates expert. I sent him your studies. Dr. Wilkin said: “The aqueous perchlorate concentration was pretty high. There was one screamer in the 3A location. It’s close to 50 parts per billion. That’s an increase of 500-fold. That’s pretty significant.”

I’d just like to suggest that this committee recommend to the city of Madison a “Magic Kingdom” solution to protect Warner wetland, and all Madison waters. Nearly a decade ago, you may know that Disneyland, which is hardly an environmental leader, pioneered non-perchlorate “green” fireworks, which the alder has also recommended. Disneyland did this because of environmental health concerns. Coastal cities in California are following suit.  And if Disneyland can do it, Madison can do it. And so I recommend that you adopt a green fireworks plan. And that these green fireworks only be fired on land, in parking lots or stadiums, where the debris can be properly cleaned up. Please do not fire them into any of bodies of water. Thank you.

Fix: Ok, Jim.

Jim Carrier: Hi, I’m Jim Carrier and I’ve been at this table with this committee for about a year and a half. And I brought this to show you (holding a jar). This is a piece of the so-called disappearing shards from the firework that were shot here. And it sits here in the lagoon water on my desk [in a jar], all these months later. We’ve learned over this last year and a half that to question fireworks on the fourth of July, and particularly Terry Kelly’s extravaganza, to be against this pollution, particularly if it spoils the party is tantamount to being unpatriotic. But in my opinion there is nothing more patriotic than being for the environment. Most of the data that you’ve been asked to wade through amounts to a parsing of parts per billion and dilutions and methodologies and food chain possibilities, but here’s the bottom line: You know and the organizers of this event know that Chinese-made fireworks are polluting a Wisconsin wetland. And they have for 20 years. They are polluting waters of the state with heavy metals, perchlorates, and solid debris. We have been in constant contact with the DNR and just this afternoon we received an email from Kurt Welke who is the Dane County fisheries manager and he said he couldn’t come to the meeting but he said feel free to read it for the record. He says “I spoke with Ms. Lloyd Eagen who is the regional water leader. She has agreed to send a letter to you all, reinforcing our agreement with the city to manage the parcel in our ownership–that’s 14 acres of the park–for conservation purposes and to reiterate the value in terms of form and function that wetlands serve. We have a valuable natural local asset to Northside residents. We have a track record of public investment in Warner lagoon, habitats that are present provide important services to the aquatic and terrestrial communities they support. The educational springboard you’ve begun fills a large and important gap in the environmental literacy of the neighborhood’s children and young adults. We, the DNR, affirm the value of the area and are committed to advocacy and building understanding as future plans for Warner Park develop. Feel free to read this for the records and please let me know who to send this to.

In conclusion, you may be discouraged that a year and a half after this deliberation and study, the mayor has gone ahead, before your concluded recommendations, and negotiated a settlement that allows fireworks this year. We haven’t seen a contract, yet. We may yet have an influence on the wording of that. I urge you to take a strong stand and recommend and end to the pollution. Sooner or later, it will end. It’s happening in other municipalities and amusement parks and places where people value the quality of their public waters. The body of evidence is growing that fireworks, particularly the huge displays like in Warner Park, are an environmental and public health hazard. Thank you.

Fix:  Terry Kelly.

Terry Kelly: Thank you, all. Good afternoon. I haven’t had a chance to see many of you. So thank you for having me here today. I want to see several things. First of all, thank you to this committee for the care and deliberation that you are exerting in this.  My degree is in environmental studies and environmental sciences. I’ve practiced in the field my entire life. Most of what I do is environmentally oriented, including running the environmental studies center at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, for 50,000 children a year. We have personally gifted and supported the Clean Lakes Alliance. We’ve lived in Madison since 1969. We’re awfully proud of the community. We think that there are some things that need fixing on an urgent basis, including the quality of our lakes that are in sad repair. And I’m in favor of the kind of urgent action that seems to now be bubbling to the surface in terms of farm action and fertilizer and land use changes.

I think it gets very complicated when you look at Warner Park which is built as most of Madison’s Isthmus is on filled land for the most part which is known to have contaminants in it. That has runoff from the streets. That has a high geese population. It has many other issues there. Nevertheless, I began to be concerned myself, many years ago, long before this committee started looking into this whether we were affecting in any way the Warner Park environment. Just a couple of years after we started Rhythm and Booms, which is a volunteer effort on our park, a non-profit 501c3. When people say it’s Terry Kelly’s fireworks they really don’t know what they’re talking about. We’ve done this labor of love for the community to celebrate Madison at its best and to celebrate our nation’s independence without pay and with the support of the city and other businesses year-round.

The issue in Warner Park is that as far as we can determine from testing of our own, we started with water quality testing two years ago, it was, as Wild Warner has pointed out, conducted a couple of weeks after, therefore perchlorates have disappeared, which is an interesting data point in itself, which is reconfirmed by your testing here today. Perchlorates are transient from fireworks. They’re at very low levels and they tend to ameliorate themselves quite rapidly from fireworks displays. We shifted over to cardboard casings from plastic, 17 or 18 years ago. Cardboard is unsightly. We can go out in Warner Park and dig some up. I know you’ve probably all been out there and seen it. It does degrade over time. It is in and of itself, other than an eyesore, not a particularly serious environmental hazard. We have started in recent years to do lots more clean up, including with canoes in the wetland after the event. I understand the dog park was not well tended to this last time. There’s always more we can do in that respect. We have hundreds of volunteers out that next day to help clean up.

I want to point out that the city-county public health director, if you didn’t see her response in the Capital Times to Wild Warner’s article, she states: “The article exaggerated the findings in the study and the spike in perchlorates. It does not mention that these levels very rapidly decrease and return to background levels in 30 days due to microbial degradation and dilution. This matches other previously published studies and was expected. It also goes on to say that with the exception of chloride trace metal concentrations in the lagoon water, there’s no discernible change after the event. That’s consistent with many other studies, including in upstate New York, San Diego and other places that have looked into these matters.”

“In all other species of plants that were evaluated perchlorate was either not detected before or after the firework display or perchlorate levels were actually shown to decrease. In the soil perchlorate levels were not observed to increase following Rhythm and Booms. Therefore the data from the analysis of plants and soil do not support the conclusion of the article that the Rhythm and Booms event is harmful to the environment and the impact on public health.”

That’s from Janel Heinrich.
I had submitted some material most of which made it to your pre-reading. But one thing that didn’t was the conclusion of an expert that we hired. Because although I’m an environmental scientist I’m not a physical chemist and wouldn’t presume to be one. Dr. Roger Schneider has a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from UW-Milwaukee. He is one of the nation’s preeminent experts in explosives, pyrotechnics and environmental impacts and has testified in over 400 cases for the government and others. His background and resume did make your reading list there but his conclusion did not. So I’ve asked your staff to hand it out to you today. And it’s very brief. It says “Terry, after a careful review of the PACE analytical report, it is my opinion that the firework displays in Warner Park represent no long-term environmental hazard to the lagoon waters or its sediments. I am working on a more-detailed assessment of the PACE report to include discussions of the quote metals detected. This assessment will serve to provide you with background information to use in addressing environmental concerns.

He also attaches a table which lists the elements that PACE determined and for comparison showed their concentrations a centrum silver vitamin tablet. I think that’s a little pop-scientish for me. I didn’t ask him to do that. But it does point out that the concentrations found are far less than you ingest in a vitamin tablet that you take every day.

Fix: Mr. Kelly, you’ve over three minutes.

Kelly: Ok. I just have one more thing. There’s another article, I think it’s worth your perusing, and that is phytoremediation of perchlorates in fireworks. In the end of the abstract it says that it is likely that aquatic, microbial-faunal-phyto-remediation, that’s a mouthful, is playing a principal role in perchlorate mineralization. To minimize long-term environmental contamination with fireworks associated with perchlorates, fireworks displays should be conducted whenever possible at sites rich in terrestrial or aquatic vegetation. In other words, the recommendation for the environment is–that the environment does the best job at rapidly removing these perchlorates from the environment if you shoot into wet areas and those areas with vegetation, which we do at Warner Park.

Warner Park, by the way, was chosen because its one of the safest environments in the United States for fireworks because it does have water around the crowd. Public safety is the most preeminent thing that we do. So thank you for listening and we’re very conscious of our environmental responsibilities. I think that in all studies like ours, everything we do has a trade-off. And as Aldo Leopold was, we have to be consciously evident every day about not going to far one way or too far to the other. We should absolutely not be doing any environmental harm to any part of the city of Madison or its wetlands. On the other hand, people ought to be able to enjoy the fourth of July fireworks, if we can prove, as many other cities have that the effects are short-term and not harmful to the environment. I think the conclusions are very clear. Thank you.

Question from Weier: Which is the PACE report?

Kelly: That’s the city report. I believe that’s your report. PACE is the lab you guys used…

Fix: And the last one for which I have a slip is Mr. Robin Carly (sp?).

Carly: Thank you for putting this report together and I want to thank Mr. Kelly, also. I live across the street from Warner Park and have enjoyed every single year that I’ve been there, watching the fireworks. So as many of the people opposed to this future of the fireworks, I’m sure they’ve enjoyed them in the past. My only concern is that I live extremely close to the park. And I actually perused the Massachusetts analysis that was done. It was specifically about wells that over a period of time, over a decade, did become contaminated. I do know that those wells were very shallow. But I also know that in your study you did not address my well which is about 100 yards from the pond, itself. I have a 165-foot well. It actually, because of the draw-down effect of the city well, I went down an extra 100 feet. I’m well into the rock layer that would hopefully shelter me from any problem. But I was curious if you had tested any other wells. For instance, Maple Bluff Country Club, I believe uses a well system to irrigate their country club. That’s also in the immediate vicinity of the park. And actually I don’t know if Warner Park uses a well for their sprinkler system, for the fields and so forth, but I was curious if you had used any well sites at all to check to see if there is any perchlorate contaminant.

Fix: Answer–we did not. I did not know if the city or DNR, which would be likely, to, have done anything with those wells. I would assume that some of the city municipal wells require some kind of annual report and that they have done analysis for perchlorates. Correct me if I’m wrong, Joe.

Joseph Grande from Madison Water Utility: Joe Grande. I work for the water utility. I’m the water quality manager. We do not test for perchlorate on an annual basis. That’s a misconception. We have tested all of our wells for perchlorate a number of years ago, when it was required as part of unregulated contaminants monitoring, and we did not find  perchlorate in any well.

Carly (wellowner): And I believe, and Joe will attest to this, the closest well to the park would be on Sherman Ave., next to Sherman School (Shabazz), which is as the crow flies, a mile plus from Warner Park. My well is maybe 120 yards from the edge of the pond. So and by the way, I wanted to thank Terry also. My yard, and every third year or so, is pretty littered with fireworks. That means I get a great array of fireworks…But I don’t find that the cardboard is problematic at all. It dissolves within at the most a month or so, so that’s a good thing. I don’t know if the dissolving of that leaches anything into the ground. It didn’t become aware to me until I read some more of the information actually generated by this report. Because wells have a potential of being affected it would seem like it would have been, if it was of knowledge, part of your report. But again, I am going to get my well tested separately. And I’ll be glad to let you know what the results are. Hopefully it’s clean because that will make all of your previous news statements kosher, then.

Terry Kelly intercedes: Two bits of information may be helpful.

Fix: Well, maybe after the meeting…Unless there’s someone else who wishes to talk, I’d like to get to the committee discussion of the comments and whatever recommendations we may or may not make. (Thanks Carly and all other speakers).

Fix (to the committee): So now I think you all have received comments that have been generated…and reports that Jim [Bennett] and Bemis [Bemis] have put together. What’s the committee’s consensus or feeling about the reports…and where we should be going. Any thoughts?

Weier: Well, I was hoping we could get more information from the people who prepared the reports.

Fix: Brynn you want to come up and Jim…What kind of stuff do you want to ask, Anita?

Weier: Well, if you wanted to summarize. We have your written reports but do you want to…

Brynn Bemis (city hydrogeologist and author of water report): Well, I do feel like there are a few ideas that are being thrown around that should be perhaps, clarified. First of all, perchlorate does not disappear, but it does break down. And when people say it disappears in the environment, that’s another way of saying that it breaks down by most likely microbial action. There’s actually microbes in the environment that breathe in that lack of oxygen, they’re able to basically breathe perchlorate. And then what the final products of that are chloride, carbon dioxide, and water. And in areas where they have large perchlorate contaminant plumes, the principal way that they address the perchlorate plume is to actually inject a carbon source into the ground, basically some sort of food for bugs to eat, and then in the practice of that it normally makes the groundwater go anoxic which means no more oxygen present. So then in that combination of where the microbes have a lot of food and there’s no oxygen present, they’re able to break down the perchlorate. So that’s a concept people keep saying–perchlorate doesn’t disappear–and in my report, I was actually never suggesting that perchlorate disappears, but it does break down. Another thing was there’s a lot of water quality issues that were brought up tonight that related to the Warner wetland. To me as a scientist I don’t think they have anything to do with fireworks. For example, fish kills, that doesn’t seem to be something related to fireworks, it’s typically related to lack of oxygen which we do have anoxic and hyper-eutrophic conditions in a lot of areas of the lake. Something like a sheen–there’s two things in a wetland that will cause a sheen: oil and grease. Or anoxic conditions. This is fed by a lot of stormwater so it’s like receiving a lot of runoff from roads where there is gasoline. The other situation is totally natural. You have reduced iron in the water when it comes into contact with the surface. It forms iron oxide which is rust. And there’s a lot of places where wetlands, I don’t know if that’s what you saw, but some people think it looks bad, but that could be a natural thing causing it.

Maybe I should just run through the recommendations that I was going to put in my report. I did read through all the recommendations that people gave. Hopefully I address them. Regarding post-cleanup, that is going to stay the same but I definitely recommend that debris be cleaned up. I don’t include an implementation plan and how the city makes sure that that happens. With surface water, I do not recommend additional samples. There’s been multiple studies. Some of them I reference in my report and in this study that do show a short-term spike in perchlorate. It’s definitely a contaminant. It reflects what other studies have found. It’s the same order of magnitude. It also showed that it was broken down below protection levels within 30 days.

So for that reason I don’t recommend any additional studies. It reflects what we’ve already seen in literature. I think what other published studies are out there, that are representative of what we’re going to be seeing here.

Sediments-I also do not recommend additional studies because as I stated the biggest impact to the Warner Park wetland sediment is stormwater. I’m sure there are definitely heavy metals coming in. A small percentage of that is from the fireworks, but stormwater is the biggest impact to that wetland.

I also put a section in the report which you guys haven’t see yet with regards to air quality monitoring. We didn’t do any air monitoring but I decided to include a summary public health had written several years ago because I thought that people might have questions about it. Again, air quality monitoring specific to particulate matter has been extensively studied with fireworks events. We feel like what’s been published is representative of what we would find here. If we take our average worst quality air in July and we add to it the worst case scenario for what you would have for particulates, we do exceed the national ambient air quality standards. We already naturally exceed that several times a year. I’m sure you hear about smog alerts. So again we do make recommendations in our report for people who have asthma or have heart problems with regards to their exposure. But again we do feel that what’s already been published is representative enough that we don’t feel that it warrants additional air quality monitoring.

Weier: One of your recommendations here was to request low- or no-perchlorate fireworks. Do you still agree with that?

Bemis: Yes. That didn’t change.

Fix (to Weier): Do you have any questions for Jim (Bennett)?

Weier: I’d like to know if you have anything you want to say, Jim.

Jim Bennett (UW-Madison scientist and author of plant and sediment report): I wrote recommendations that were very tentative because I felt that that was something that the committee ought to come to some sort of agreement on. However, we’ve, I had a discussion with Steve (Fix) earlier that came to the conclusion that maybe there should be recommendations in my report specific to my part of the study, separate from what the whole committee wants to recommend. I can make recommendations about how one could improve this kind of work, if the committee wanted it done. But as to recommendations about the fireworks, that’s up to the committee.

Weier: But don’t you have any opinion? You’re the expert.

Bennett: No. I don’t have any recommendations right now, myself, about the fireworks. I do have recommendations about what the fireworks are uh, the way we could find out more about what the fireworks are doing to the plants and soils themselves, but as for the fireworks themselves, that’s something for the committee as a group.

Bemis: I did want to say something more about the location. I think there were some recommendations that maybe we should move this away from the wetland. From a perchlorate perspective, a wetland is actually a prime environment to break down perchlorate and if you set off fireworks in an open field where it goes down into groundwater, it’s more likely to be persistent. I’m not arguing, and that’s one reason I don’t argue one way or another whether or not it should be moved. But I think that it’s more complicated than just saying we need to remove it from the wetland because I think there’s other impacts that would happen at other locations.

Bennett: I’m not sure I agree with that. Um, yeh because plants can mineralize perchlorate very effectively. They’re very good at it. And the point that Terry Kelly made is actually correct, that doing fireworks over terrestrial ecosystems, where there’s lot of vegetation actually will break down the perchlorate more probably than it would over a wetland.

Another COE member: If there’s lots of vegetation. An open field generally is

Bemis: The Massachusetts study that you looked at, I don’t, I read that study and I cited it in my report. I wasn’t aware of any private water wells being contaminated. There were lots of wells that were installed because it was a groundwater study. These were all very shallow wells. They do have recommendations in that study to site fireworks far away from drinking water wells but that was a location where there was an open field and there were no water bodies, nearby.

Another COE member: I think this committee needs to get away from drinking water issues because this is a committee on the environment. There’s lots of other issues that have to do with wildlife out there that we should be talking about, not drinking water. Drinking water is not our responsibility. So it may be an issue. I’m not saying it’s not an issue but it’s not the responsibility of this committee.

Fix: Reggie?

Reggie Weide [COE member]:  One thing that this year possibly to have it back in Warner Park, if that’s what’s been agreed to, I guess that’s whats going to happen. A recommendation–I was down in Louisville, Kentucky, and I think they have them every year. Something for you to look into. They have barges on the Ohio River that they shoot the fireworks from. And the fireworks come up and go down into the Ohio River. That possibly could be a recommendation for the future where we move it out into Lake Mendota. I don’t know if that’s possible or not but have the fireworks shot from barges, the fireworks would land in the middle of Lake Mendota. Actually it would open it up for more people, rather than in the corner. People could watch it from around the lake. That’s a potential recommendation for the future. I would say that one thing that I noted about the Committee on the Environment, we’ve had other discussions in the past, this particular area we’ve talked about stormwater, we’ve talked about landfill, and we’ve talked about a history of fireworks. What this is, in my opinion, is an area “heated up,” meaning there’s a lot of factors in that particular area that cause potentially fish to die or problems with children going into the water. Maybe it would be an idea in the future to think about cooling that area off a little bit. Maybe we can’t stop the stormwater. Maybe we can’t stop the landfill that is there. But we could stop the fireworks there and move the fireworks to another site. I know, I don’t know Terry personally, but I know from reading in the paper and from hearing that he has a history of environmental stewardship. And I know that he would not want to consciously do anything that would hurt the environment. So, I appreciate his concern. I appreciate him being here. But I think another site in the future might be something to be looked at. I wouldn’t stop the fireworks. But I think that another site might be possible. Just my opinion.

Fix: (to Giegerich Giegerich) you had some recommendations that I know you were thinking about in that email that you sent.

Giegerich (COE member): Yeh, I was actually responding to …Before I put out my recommendations, the thing that I’m struggling with right now that seems new is this idea of wetlands, and whether or not its an ideal location for fireworks or not. And then your comment that we’re not supposed to be concerned about drinking water because we’re the environment committee. Like, it’s all connected. So I’m having a hard time right now like trying to separate out what’s a problem and what’s not as far as what’s happening there. And I was hoping that maybe we could get, whenever somebody testified that DNR had a position, even about what was happening there, their role.

Fix: That’s Kurt Welke. Welke is the fish manager for the Madison area. I know him personally And he and I assume Lloyd Eagen will be commenting about what the DNR would like. I don’t think the DNR’s going to take any stance or any strong stance visavis whether fireworks should be at Warner.

Giegerich (laughs): Oh, I’m sure they’re not.

Fix: What they’re concerned about, and this is something that Tim [Fix means Kurt Welke] brought to this committee when he was here on another issue maybe, awhile ago, maybe it was the fireworks, he’s concerned about the long-term plan for Warner Park. There’s a planning process going on there right now if I understand it correctly.

Weier: It rather stopped.

Fix: The DNR and Welke in particular was concerned about what any planning effort along those lines would mean for the DNR property, seeing as they had not been contacted. But I know they do have concerns about trying to maintain the natural habitat there, the wetlands, and perhaps find ways to enhance and improve it, if at all possible. The issue with fish kills, I’d like to talk to Kurt about. I’m not terribly surprised there are fish kills in that lagoon given how shallow it is and that the only time you get any flow-through there is during rain events. So it doesn’t surprise me that there are going to be fish kills in that lagoon. But I would like to hear more from Tim-Kurt about fish kills. I have not seen in my reading of the literature at least, anything that connects fireworks displays with any adverse impacts on wildlife whatsoever. So, unless I see that I’m assuming that explanation of lack of oxygen, which I do know that happens in these type of scenarios with this lagoon, is a very likely candidate for why you’re going to have significant fish kills. And the most likely reason for that is due to the loading of nutrients, phosphorus, nitrogen, into the system.

Giegerich: Well it was just a couple of new concepts that seemed to come up tonight, at least for me. From my recommendations, at least in the short-term, and by the short-term I mean not I guess this year, it does seem like numerous people have talked about the fact that there is debris still on the ground. It’s supposed to be part of the contract. So at the very least we should be advocating that the city, if that’s in the contract, that its enforced, and if its not, that it’s a consequence because that’s something that keeps coming up. I definitely supported the low or no-perchlorate fireworks, especially if they’re available. If we’re going to shoot them off over water it seems like something that at a very minimum we could be requesting. And then, depending on what some of these other things are, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for at least the city to take a step back and say if you look at all of Madison, what would be the ideal locations for a fireworks display. It might be that–and again, this idea that wetlands become the ideal place to shoot off fireworks is still a little bizarre to me–but

Bemis interrupts: I was not saying wetlands..

Giegerich: Well, somebody else said that. So that’s why

Terry Kelly interjects: Some of the studies show that.

Giegerich: I find that really hard to believe. But if it’s true

Bemis (to Kelly): Your studies were with safety in mind.

Kelly: No, the phytoremediation…the whole reduction of perchlorates is better over wetlands than anywhere else.

Giegerich: Regardless, it just seems like maybe taking a step back and if you were to start all over in an ideal world, what would be the ideal place to shoot off fireworks with the least amount of impact, and then  see if there’s anywhere in Madison that meets that rather than starting with, well, this is where they are now. At least for a recommendation.

Fix:  And we haven’t, as a committee, we really haven’t had a discussion of the other major fireworks that takes place on the fourth of July and that’s at Elver park. Although it’s not as large as Rhythm and Booms in terms  of the fireworks that are shot off, it still gathers a large crowd and there’s still potential environmental impacts because the stormwater drain that goes through there becomes headwaters for Badger Hill Creek, a coldwater stream.

Another member: There’s also the one at Black Hawk country club.


Another member: Yeh, it’s pretty big. It’s right next to the lake.

Fix: And then there’s my pet peeve is the ones that are going off by the neighbor’s kids at midnight. But that’s another story.


Terry Kelly interjects: Would you like any background on the siting discussion that the city has had.

Fix: Um, I’ll defer to the committee.

Weier asks Mayor Soglin’s aide, Katie Crawley, if she thinks its appropriate to say anything about that.

Crawley: I don’t know that it’s appropriate because of what the committee is considering right now.

Fix: Well, there was the article in the State Journal, Saturday, that talked about the agreement that the city and rhythm and booms had come to and perhaps we could take just a moment to tell the committee or fill us in on as to what that is. I’m not sure if everyone saw that article

Crawley: I don’t have the article or the resolution that is going to the city council. There’s been no final decision on it. It calls for a much- scaled-down even more than last year.

Discussion among members about resolution process (several people talking).

Crawley?: It calls for the scope of the show to be smaller as well as very little entertainment and alcohol at the site. Is that correct, Terry?

Kelly says something (inaudible).

Weier: Well, basically the summary of it at the time there was that Madison Festivals would be taking it over from Madison Fireworks Fund. But apparently that’s a question, now?

Terry Kelly: No. She’s here sitting right next to me. We’re working on it, together.

Weier: Still? Okay. It says there will be no rain-out day. The city will be reimbursed for the time and services for the event in the excess of $55,000. The fireworks show will cost no more than $100,000. It will last no longer than 30 min. It may include a National Guard flyover. That Madison Fireworks may no longer refer to the event as the “largest firework display in the Midwest.” And would be responsible for all clean-up related to the event and would agree to indemnify the city and carry insurance and name city as additionally insured (Transcriber’s note: slightly inaudible–not sure of last phrase on insurance issue). And also my understanding that there will not be music stage or a beer tent.

Someone: It’s a BYOB.


Fix: The article was in Saturday’s state journal and it sounds like it covers what you say. There’s a little more detail but it gives a general gist of apparently what the city and Rhythm and Booms have agreed to for how Rhythm and Booms will occur in the future. Of course, like all things, subject to change…

(inaudible) Recommendations. Brynn [Bemis] made some. I know Jim you want to make some.

Jim Bennett: Now, mine is still a draft…If the committee agrees, I need to hear from the committee, then I will write written recommendations specific to this part of the study only.

Fix: What would you recommend?

Bennett: well, there are some concerns that parts of the study didn’t have replication. If there is enough questioning of that, we need to do sampling with replication. We can confine that to certain species instead of the suite that we did, we don’t have to do 16 anymore, now that we know what’s out there. We can limit it to a smaller sampling of species and replicate it. And perhaps do it closer than 23 days. The second sampling this last year was 23 days following the event. And maybe we want to sample a little earlier than that. So I would make recommendations along those lines, not about the fireworks, themselves.

Fix: And then I think we’ve got Brynn’s, there were three that you made?

Bemis: Well, I’m making recommendations for surface water, sediment, post-event clean-up, perchlorates, air quality monitoring, and then I didn’t talk about this, but groundwater monitoring. And that’s one that we, people had alluded to. I would not be surprised at all if we put in shallow water table monitoring wells if we detected perchlorates. I still don’t recommend perchlorate testing. We’re out of the 50-year capture zone, we’re right on the edge of it for unit well 7. I deal with groundwater contamination all the time and it’s not, it, there’s probably hundreds if not thousands of contaminant plumes in the groundwater all throughout the city.

Fix: We would have what you call staff recommendations which wouldn’t necessarily be the recommendations of the committee.

Bennett: I guess I need to say a few more words. The plant and soil study also focused on heavy metals and nutrients. Because the fireworks colors are made from compounds that don’t go away unlike perchlorate which is broken down. But things like strontium and barium and so on, sulphur, do not, and there were elevated levels of these found in some of the plant species and soils, as it’s described in the report, following the event. Some of the levels reached levels that are known in the literature to be toxic to vegetation. So. That’s not something that’s going to go away. That could be the result, especially in the woody plants, of 20 years of exposure. That isn’t going to go away. And I’ll probably have to make a recommendation along those lines, too. I forgot to mention that earlier. The focus isn’t totally on perchlorates, it’s on all these other things that are making fireworks so colorful.

Fix: So maybe a staff recommendation and then maybe Jim’s recommendations and then the committee itself will do recommendations as well. That sounds rather cumbersome but I think that the council should have a full sweep of what the thought is.

Reggie Weide: If you talk about a recommendation, I would find a different site in the future. Nothing against fireworks, nothing against Rhythm and Booms but I think we need to cool that area off. I think it’s been used. We need now to bring it back to its natural habitat as much as we can and move the fireworks to another location. That would be my recommendation for the future.

Fix: By another location are you saying out of Warner Park totally or are you saying out of the wetland?

Weide: Yes, I would take it out of Warner Park and out of the wetlands, yes. Let that area go back to what it needs to be so that children can play in the water and you know, there’s already, as I mentioned earlier, we got stormwater runoff and we got a landfill there, we’ve got all kinds of other things going on and you add fireworks on top of it, over a period of time, it just seems like we should find another site. That would be a recommendation that you could take  to the city council and have them look at it and see what they think.

Fix: They’ll be the ultimate decider, anyway. Personally I would agree with moving, firing the fireworks out of the wetland. I’m not so sure I’d go along with moving them out of the park, per se. That’s a big, even for people living around it think of it as their neighborhood park, that’s a sizable park, it’s a regional park not unlike Elver on the southwest side or Vilas or even in the central part of the city.

Weide: What about the idea that they use the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky? They put barges out and shoot them off in barges. And it just lands in the water.

Fix: Yeh, well, I think that that would cause people to have other concerns. My recollection is that there was some backlash to what went on in Louisville with firing off of barges. I don’t recall. I’d have to go back and find the articles that I had seen that there’s some backlash to doing that in terms of essentially dropping all that debris into the river.

Weide: Well, I tell you, that may be true but what about the poor people that have all this stuff on their lawn and potential of having fire, you know caused by, I mean has there been a fire?

Someone from public: Yeh. Last year.

Weide: Well what I’m saying is, if you put it out in water like Terry says, it will naturally dissipate and it will all be done with. And actually would increase the viewership of it because still people could come to Warner Park, but they could also view it from other neighborhoods and make the fireworks closer. I don’t know. This is just off the top. I think moving the site is key because it’s like it’s been heated up over a period of 20 years with fireworks, it is already a landfill, the stormwater issue. I think it will take some of the pressure off the people, the neighbors. Having all this debris land on their house. Also I agree with everybody here that says that we should do a better job of cleaning up. Even Terry said that they could do a better job of cleaning the mess up. I don’t know exactly who is responsible for that but when you find this stuff laying all over the place, you know, it should be cleaned up  better.

COE member: Do you want to make a motion or not?

Fix: I’m not sure we’re ready yet for a motion. I think we need to get more of a consensus of what we’re going to be recommending in terms of recommendations.

Weide: Well there can be several recommendations. I would make the recommendation that the site be cleaned up this year. I can do that right now.

Fix: I think that Giegerich and Bemis kind of alluded to that…Mike didn’t you have something along some of those lines, too?

Mike: Yeh, one of the recommendations I wanted to explore is the height of detonation. Because obviously the higher up it is, theoretically it should disperse more rapidly, again that may have good points, that may have bad points. I didn’t know if there was any literature and studies on that that show that having it detonate at 1000 feet vs. 2000 feet might make a difference, positively or negatively. That’s something I’d like to explore.

Fix: Well, Terry, you seem to be the expert on this. I’ll defer to you on it.

Kelly: A few years ago they actually produced some custom mortars for us because I was concerned about trying to get them up as far as possible. I could ask if they could make them even longer. But we have already extended the detonation heights up substantially. While I’m talking, two other quick points. We are in 2014, not opposed to trying to do part of the show with lower perchlorate stuff. It’s not generally available. It’s very costly. We have to look into it and plan it with a long lead time. The third thing is that this year we’re reducing the amount of product. We’re reducing the length of the show. That will help somewhat. And while I’m at it you’ve been very kind to be forebearing here on me but we could look at firing potentially from the parking lot. There is a safety range to do that I think.  And put the people still in the main viewing area. We have felt that where we shoot it from, which is specially designed for thousands of tons of fill so we can angle everything back, is the safest place. I’m not opposed to looking at another place. The city doesn’t feel there’s another place in the city that could accommodate another firework show. They’re very afraid that if there’s only Elver, they’d be overwhelmed. Right now they can barely deal with the crowd at Elver because its not capable of handling a larger crowd. Warner is. But we’re flexible in terms of all kinds of possibilities. And lastly about the lake, I shot several shows into Lake Monona for the grand opening of the Monona Terrace and also the 10th anniversary. We did it from barges. Those work. But you lose 95% of all the debris into the lake. And we clean up probably half of it or two-thirds of it. The rest of it goes in the marsh where we can’t reach it and it biodegrades. I am worried about the quantity of material it might put in the lake, of that aspect. But we’re going to have a shorter show this year with less product. Next year we’re not opposed–I can’t tell you a percentage right now–but we’ll do everything we can to try to get perchlorate-free fireworks for a portion of. Somebody made a comment we’re bringing Chinese fireworks over here and shooting them into American lakes. I’m not sure where that came from but almost all our fireworks are made in Iowa. And while we may hate the Hawk eyes (inaudible) during sports season, I think they’re good Midwestern people. So there are some Chinese shells but most of them are made in the United States. Thanks for letting me get all that off my chest. I hope that’s all.

Member of the public raising hand (Trish O’Kane): If he’s been allowed to speak, why can’t we? We have physical evidence that these are Chinese fireworks. The lettering is in Chinese. They have the names of the factories over there. We have bags of this stuff in our garages. This is a lie, a flat-out lie.

Fix: Mam, excuse me, mam. That’s enough. If you want something, present it afterwards. But you’re saying they are Chinese. He’s saying they’re not.

Kelly: No, I said there are some Chinese fireworks.

Fix: But they’re mostly American. So let’s leave it at that.

Another COE member: This isn’t very relevant to this committee, anyway.

Weier: Was that a motion that you made, What I would like a possible motion to be is the three things that Bemis recommended here in her report which were to clean it in its entirety, recommend that any misfires or duds be located and disposed of properly, and request low or no-perchlorate fireworks.

Fix: For next year’s show

Weier: request it

Fix: Is that possible?

Kelly: It’s possible that some. I can’t tell you that it will be all. Every city in America is trying to get some low-perchlorate fireworks into the show and as a result, not a lot are available.

Motion made for Bemis’s three recommendations. Passes.

Very brief discussion (1 minute) of other possible recommendations beyond what is in the two reports.

COE Member: I think that these three are kind of no-brainers.

Fix: Any other comment or discussion by the committee? All those in favor of including these three as recommendations of the committee in the report say I.

Motion passes.

Fix: Any other recommendations? Reggie has an idea. You want to make that a motion?

Reggie: Are you talking about moving the fireworks?

Fix: Yeh.

Reggie: You know after listening to all the arguments here I’m not sure that that’s the best idea. I thought it might be just, I’m looking to take the pressure off that area. That’s all I’m looking for. I don’t know if a barge in the middle of Lake Mendota is the best idea. But I think the neighbors, after 20 years, and again the stormwater and the landfill, if we could bring that area back into a more friendly environment and I think it would be a good idea. But I’m willing to listen to what everybody else has to say.

Giegerich: I would not feel comfortable making a specific recommendation of where to move it but I do think it’s well within common sense to at least evaluate whether or not there’s other places in the city that could accommodate it. And what the ideal conditions would be for that. So then I guess it would be doing research on what the ideal location for fireworks would be, length of time, detonation height, what is the ideal for the most environmentally-sensitive fireworks
Display and then where and how best could we meet that in Madison with the conditions…

If you can make that a motion.


Fix: A motion and a second. Any discussion of Giegerich’s.

COE Member: I agree with that motion but I also feel that Terry Kelly in many ways has already been trying to do that. Do you know what I’m saying? In many ways…How does the motion read again?

Someone (secretary?) reading: request research for ideal fireworks display location. Height.

COE member: Height he has researched. And he’s been working on location. And I do think it’s a good motion, don’t get me wrong.

Giegerich: Well could I, …I’m sure that he has. I’m not questioning anybody word, but if we do that, and it reconfirms everything he’s already said, then he’s got the cover of it. If we find out additional information, we can make alternative, I just think that this committee needs to do that evaluation on our own as well.

COE member: I agree with you. I agree 100%. I’d be in favor of it. But what I’m saying though is Terry already addressed the fact that he’s looked into the height. We can look into it also. I’m not saying we can’t.

COE member: That would be the department of public health.

Giegerich: can they look at drinking water, while they’re at it.

More laughter.

COE member: I agree that that is a really good idea. We need to know, and from an environmental standpoint, what is the best sort of siting for a fireworks show. All of the possible variables. And so we say that, and I’m not exactly sure what comes of that or what we can actually do.

Fix: I think it’s a discussion that would need to take place. One thing that has to go in that is the carrying capacity in terms of the number of viewers at the specific location. And then one of the nice things about Warner is that you can be on Union Terrace, relaxing, and still be able to see the high fireworks across the lake. You have a number of things to play off in the analysis of any site in terms of environmental questions as well as the viewshed questions. So that’s something that type of evaluation would do.

Weier: Can I just make a comment? I know one thing that the mayor has been favoring is to have a number of smaller neighborhood celebrations. Make this one smaller and more like Elver, and then maybe other places.

Fix: Madison used to do that. Westmoreland park used to have fireworks. And that’s a good question why that was discontinued. Was it just too costly? I think it was run by the neighborhood.

COE member: I was on the committee that disbanded that. The reason for it was it was landing on children and people and roofs. It just was too small. It was wonderful.

Comment from public, the representative of Madison Festivals with Terry Kelly: They used to have them at Vilas until it scared the animals [in the zoo.]

Weier: It scares the dogs.

COE member: It was a wonderful idea but you know these things come down and before they were cardboard, they were plastic or something and burning. And a little baby basket or something like that and there was a fire on the roof of one of the houses, too.

Weier: Well a woman has been burned over on Forster watching it. Sitting in a chair and her leg got burnt.

Member of the public: And a child got burned, too.

Fix: So we have a motion on the floor.

Question from COE member: Are these recommendations for 2014?

Fix: I don’t think we specified a date. Nor do I think, well

Other people talking
Terry Kelly: Everything is contracted, so.

Fix: Well the contract is done for 2013.

Weier: It’s not approved, yet.

Fix: That’s right.

Weier: It’s introduced tomorrow [to the City Council].

Giegerich?: It doesn’t seem like we’d be able to do anything worthwhile in time for this year, but at the very least I’d want to get ahead of 2014 so before we’re in a place where there are contracts
Already being discussed, that we’re actually proactive in the recommendations rather than reactive. I don’t know what kind of timeline that would give us but in time to weigh in on 2014.

Fix: So, any more discussion.

Weier: So what is the motion, then?

Secretary: research for ideal fireworks display regarding location and height, from an environmental standpoint, and get ahead of the 2014 contract discussion.

Giegerich: That would cover what I would need.

Fix: So, all those in favor of the motion?


None opposed. Motion carries.

Fix: Any other recommendations that they’re thinking of making, that they would like to see attached to the report?

Discussion of final edits to the reports.

Question if recommendations going to appear in the minutes?

Weier explaining city council process. No discussion, yet.

More discussion of editing process of documents.

Fix: So any more recommendations to the committee regarding the firework study?

Reggie: you know it seems like there’s a lot of good ideas that have been brought here tonight. One of them, I was born and raised a fisherman, and do a lot of fishing. In the mission statement of the Commission on the Environment…one of the things the commission did was to protect the spawning areas in these lakes. And I see these dead fish [referring to Warner wetland photos brought by public] and I wonder. I don’t necessarily think it’s Rhythm and Booms or the fireworks. But it is an environmental issue. And the question is why, it is stormwater runoff, is that what’s causing it?

Fix: That’s a discussion we could have at a future meeting and bring in Kurt Welke of DNR, the fish manager for that specific site and for all Madison lakes for that matter. Maybe with Greg to talk about the stormwater aspect…For the new members it might be good to hear Greg’s take on stormwater…and what he perceives as Madison’s impact on the fishery in the Yahara Lakes.

Reggie: real problem with the runoff in the Yahara. Very complicated and there’s a lot of people, well-intended people working on it, but it is something that is in our environment. When I see dead fish like that, I wonder, what caused it.

Discussion of other speakers to bring on this subject.

End of discussion of Rhythm and Booms.

| More: Blog