HARWICH — The town bylaw approved in 2009 establishing a buffer zone around drinking water wells where discharging fireworks is prohibited could spell trouble for the Harwich Cranberry Festival fireworks.
For the past two years, the festival fireworks were ignited from Whitehouse Field, which is within the 1,500-foot buffer zone.
“It’s news to me,” Fire Chief Norman Clarke said of the prohibition. “You’ve thrown me a curve ball.”
This is not a new issue; the town wrestled with the matter of perchlorates contained in fireworks getting into drinking water in 2005 and 2006 after state and federal environmental agencies cited concerns for the chemical, considered a carcinogen, which moves rapidly through water table.
The Harwich Cranberry Festival fireworks used to be ignited from the softball field behind Whitehouse Field off of Oak Street, but given the proximity to public wells and concerns for perchlorates, the town agreed to relocate the pyrotechnic event to Red River Beach in 2007. Fireworks became a victim of downsizing of the festival and were eliminated in 2009.
However, the chamber of commerce brought fireworks back to the festival in 2017. The ignition site was Whitehouse Field and the viewing location was centered around the community center and the fields associated with Monomoy Regional High School.
However, the town also established a bylaw in 2009 which prohibits the ignition of fireworks containing perchlorate “within 1,500 feet of the boundary of the Zone II protective area around any pubic water supply approved by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, including drinking water wells owned and operated by the town.”
On Monday the issue was brought before selectmen. It was suggested the ignition location could be moved to Brooks Park, which is outside the buffer zone. That location might require a few more police details, but fireworks could still be observed from the community center.
Water Superintendent Dan Pelletier said he was made aware of the bylaw in January. He called the bylaw “a knee-jerk reaction” to DEP regulations on perchlorates. There is no prohibition for lighting fireworks off inside the buffer zone, he said, and perchlorates from fireworks ignited there would not make it to drinking water wells. Whitehouse Field is the better location for the fireworks, he said.
Clarke said he is responsible for signing off on the fireworks and he was told there were no issues related to groundwater. With the fireworks scheduled go off on Sept. 14, is very late in the process to ask him to sign off on a new location, he said, explaining the department studies the location to be sure it’s a spot that works and is safe for all spectators. Relocation will take a lot of review and require approval of the state Fire Marshal. He also said the pyrotechnicians have to analyze the ignition location and determine launch angles.
“If we shifted gears we’re going into the unknown,” Selectman Don Howell said. “We’re just winging it.”
Assistant town Administrator Joseph Powers said the bylaw establishes the water commission as the administrators of the provision, enforcement agents and assessors of penalties.
Water commissioner Allin Thompson said for many years fireworks were set off at Brooks Park and as the cranberry festival expanded it was moved to the high school and Whitehouse Field area. “In my eyes Whitehouse Field is perfect, the groundwater flows to Nantucket Sound and nothing has shown up in the water.”
Selectmen gave their nod to retaining the Whitehouse Field location, but agreed to send it back to the water commission as administrators of the bylaw for a final vote.