It looks as though fireworks may be returning to Mount Rushmore this year for the first time since 2009. While the South Dakota Democratic Party always welcomes an opportunity to celebrate our nation’s independence, we have a few concerns about the use of fireworks in this precarious situation.

First of all, the forested area surrounding Mount Rushmore spans 1,200 acres of mature ponderosa pine and lies adjacent to Black Elk National Forest. We hope that the controlled burn conducted in late May to clear out brush will help thwart any forest fires that could ignite from the fireworks. There’s a reason, though, fireworks haven’t been allowed at Mount Rushmore since 2009; clearly, there’s a significant chance of fire.

The possibility of groundwater contamination from the fireworks display has also been brought to our attention. During the 11-year span (1998-2009) when an annual fireworks show was held at the monument, the groundwater supplying monument began to show increased levels of perchlorate, a toxic chemical. This should concern everyone.

We are also concerned about the cost and how the display will be funded. The company contracted for the event, Pyro Spectaculars of Rialto, California, has a good track record of large, complicated events such as this. But, the cost for the 18-minute show is expected to reach the $350,000 maximum in the bidding process.

Payment for the display will be tax dollars taken from the Future Fund. For those who aren’t familiar with the fund, it was set up in the mid-1980s to invest in South Dakota’s workforce and promote continued economic development in our state. We’re unclear how an 18-minute fireworks show, open to only 7,500 visitors—against the advice of people who are experts in forest fires— will provide for future workforce or economic development in South Dakota.

And last but not least, COVID-19 cases are surging again across the country and social distancing or masking guidelines will prove challenging at this event. Recent large gatherings, such as the president's June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, have directly led to the spread of the virus. Eight of Trump’s own staff have now tested positive.

What would the four overlooking presidents think of this display? George Washington, who always put country before party; Thomas Jefferson, who outlined a visionary democracy; Teddy Roosevelt, who preserved the west and our natural resources; and Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves and defeated the Confederacy; they too may have been concerned about throwing caution to the wind.

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