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Tuesday, September 16, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 46.0° F  Fair
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Environmental questions over fireworks debris continue as Rhythm & Booms moves to Lake Monona
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Soglin said the city expects significant savings in staffing costs by moving the show to the new location.
Soglin said the city expects significant savings in staffing costs by moving the show to the new location.
Credit:Julia Cechvala

Rhythm & Booms will move out of Warner Park for 2014. The annual fireworks show will return to the Saturday before the July 4 holiday and shift to John Nolen Drive, with the fireworks set off from barges in Lake Monona, Madison Festivals Inc. announced at a press conference Wednesday at the Hilton Madison Monona Terrace.

Starting on the afternoon of the event, John Nolen Drive will be closed to traffic to make way for food and beverage carts, possibly two entertainment stages, and at dusk "front-row seats to view the fireworks," said Rita Kelliher, president of Madison Festivals.

Mayor Paul Soglin, who also spoke at the press conference, said the city expects significant savings in staffing costs by moving the show to the new location. Whether the city will also continue to sponsor the event has not yet been determined and will depend on Madison Festivals' ability to attract outside sponsors, according to Kelliher. The city will not continue to sponsor a fireworks show at Elver Park, Soglin said.

With the daytime activities scrapped this year, Rhythm & Booms was not able to attract sufficient sponsorship and ended up losing money. "It was an event we were no longer able to sustain financially," said Kelliher.

When asked whether environmental concerns played a role in moving Rhythm & Booms out of Warner Park, Kelliher said, "We always look at balancing every issue. We did look at that issue, and we are very concerned about it."

Many of the same people who raised environmental concerns about the fireworks in Warner's wetland are already worried about the potential for next year's show to pollute Lake Monona.

"We have carefully painted 'don't dump in the lakes' by storm water gutters ... and now we're dumping fireworks debris into the lake?" said former Madison school board member Lucy Mathiak.

Kelliher expressed confidence though, that a relocated Rhythm & Booms will be environmentally friendly. "The leading experts on fireworks will tell you it's advantageous to shoot over water," Kelliher said, referring to the conditions needed to breaking down and dissipate perchlorate, the main chemical found in rocket propellant.

Event organizers and park users disagree over how well the fireworks debris from this year's show at the Warner Park location was cleaned up. "I was out there myself for two hours, and we cleaned up every speck," said Kelliher. Mathiak is not satisfied with this year's cleanup efforts, though, and says she has photos of shell fragments littering the park's soccer fields, as well as the launch island.

Madison Festivals will seek a sponsor for cleanup of next year's event, Kelliher said.

Proceeds from Rhythm & Booms go to charity, and Madison Festivals' choices for 2014 are American Family Children's Hospital and the Clean Lakes Alliance. Kelliher noted that many children are injured by fireworks each year and that the Children's Hospital seeks to prevent such injuries through education.

The event will go through the normal permitting process with the city, according to Soglin. A public hearing with the city's Committee on the Environment is planned but has not yet been scheduled. If permitted, Rhythm & Booms will be held on June 28, 2014.

Alders Larry Palm and Anita Weier will host a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, with the North/Eastside Senior Coalition at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center to discuss a possible north-side Independence Day celebration to replace Rhythm & Booms.

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