Fireworks could move to airport

July 4 celebration outgrowing space at farm museum

Big show planned for 2000

Jaycees co-chair presents suggestion to county leaders

June 10, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

A Westminster Jaycees representative wants to move the organization's annual July 4 fireworks celebration from its longtime home at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster to the Carroll County Airport next year.

James E. Harris Jr., co-chairman of the Westminster Jaycees Fireworks Committee, told the county commissioners yesterday that there is no immediate concern about using the farm museum next year, emphasizing that there have been no complaints from the museum or from the neighboring Carroll County Agricultural Center.

He believes, however, that building plans at both facilities and the ever-increasing crowds for the Fourth of July event require a new location. The event is one of the most popular fireworks displays in the state, and a big event in the county, he said.

"We are obviously outgrowing the facility," he said. "It's a pretty big show -- one of the biggest in the state. We have 15,000 to 20,000 people that day for the fireworks."

This year marks the 24th for the fireworks, which began as a small program by a museum pond and now draws people from both ends of Maryland, and Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

"I would like to make the change next year," Harris said. "By the year 2000, we plan to do up to a $20,000 show because of the millennium. We want to get on the bandwagon and do this move now."

The airport -- on the north edge of Westminster -- seems the only place large enough, Harris told the commissioners. "We need an 800-foot buffer between the people and the shooting.

"I've lived here all my life and haven't seen that kind of ground where you could go in and put 6,000, 10,000 cars," he said. "I've looked all over the county and this is the only other site that would work."

Steve Brown, the airport manager under the county's Department of Enterprise and Recreation Services, agreed to work with Harris, but said the Federal Aviation Administration would have to approve any temporary closing of the airport. Pilots might object to the 12 to 13 hours it would require to set up and clean up the show, especially because it is not an aeronautic one.

Brown, addressing safety concerns, noted the 24,000 gallons of fuel stored at the airport, and the above-ground fuel tanks that give off vapors when the weather is hot. There are "millions of dollars in aircraft there," he said, and the airport's $14 million expansion will include large corporate hangars that should be filled up by then.

Safety, traffic issues

Traffic on the ground also would have to be routed away from the main airport entrance off Route 97, he said.

Harris suggested using the area farthest from the tanks and planes -- well beyond the necessary buffer for shooting the fireworks. All such shows must be approved by the state fire marshal.

As for traffic, he said, "We'd get a better traffic flow there than where we're at now. Obviously, when you got 10,000 cars anywhere, they don't flow too good. We talked about shuttle buses, but you can't have 10,000 people all wanting to get back at the same time."

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge asked Harris, Brown and county staff members to look into the matter and report back. The commissioners particularly wanted to know about any public airports that have allowed fireworks displays.

Harris said this year's event at the farm museum at 500 S. Center St. will cost $12,500. Admission will be $5 per vehicle to help cover the cost.

Harris said he'll reach the Jaycees' age limit of 40 in 2001, and wants to get a new location set before he steps down. The event involves more than 80 Jaycee members, plus city, county and state police and fire support for a total commitment of more than 150 people.

"I work well with the ag center and the farm museum," Harris emphasized. "That's never been a problem."

Fire hazard

The farm museum has added wood shingles to some buildings, he said. For the first time, the fireworks committee plans to wet down the site this year because of the shingles -- and the drought. During a drought two years ago, he said, there was a small brush fire that was quickly extinguished.

"There's always been talk about maybe moving them," he said, "and we're trying to look at all the alternatives down the road."

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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