A trial began Tuesday for a lawsuit alleging a Long Beach restaurant owner has been illegally polluting Alamitos Bay with an annual fireworks show that has been going on for over a decade.
A ruling in this case could change the way fireworks displays in Long Beach are handled when produced over bodies of water, and it could have a ripple effect across neighboring regions.
The civil lawsuit was filed in November 2021 against John Morris and the entity Naples Restaurant Group, which operates Boathouse on the Bay, by the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation (CERF), a group of environmentalists dedicated to protecting California’s coasts.
Attorneys representing CERF allege Morris failed to obtain the proper federal permits required each year to discharge fireworks from a barge in Alamitos Bay for the annual Big Bang on the Bay, and therefore the show has been illegally polluting the nearby water, putting him in violation of the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972, forbids the use of certain types of pollutants without first obtaining a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
Morris, meanwhile, has maintained that allegations against him are false, and said that he has worked with multiple agencies, including the city of Long Beach and the Los Angeles Water Board, each year to get the proper permits and put on the fireworks show.
“I believe every permit we needed, we got,” Morris told the Post. “They’re just using a technicality.”
In addition, Morris said his organization implemented new steps in 2016, in accordance with the conditions CERF has previously requested from other producers of fireworks shows over water, to make sure Alamitos Bay wasn’t being negatively affected.
“We do more in Alamitos Bay in terms of testing the conditions of the water than what Sea World does,” Morris said.
Morris launched the first Big Bang on the Bay event back in 2011 after the city stopped putting on Fourth of July fireworks shows at Veterans Stadium.
The event has served as a fundraiser for the last decade, with the proceeds going to Children Today, a charity that provides trauma-informed child development and family support services.
“We’re the only show fireworks show that does it for charity, and we’ve raised over a million dollars since,” Morris said.
On Tuesday, the first day of the federal court trial, witnesses testified about their experience with the most recent Big Bang on the Bay event held in Alamitos Bay on July 3, 2022.
Joseph Geever and his wife Gordana Kajer, who are members of CERF, recalled going out to the bay on their canoe that evening in anticipation of watching the show and documenting any possible debris falling into the water.
The couple said that during the show, they witnessed watching the fireworks rise, but then embers started landing onto the water within 100 feet of their canoe.
“I was shocked,” Kajer said in court. ”It was a constant array of (embers) hitting the water.”
Weever, meanwhile, took pictures, which were used as evidence in court to try and prove whether or not any debris or ember fell into the bay that day.
However, Brent Mardian, a marine scientist who conducted the water quality check before and after the 2022 event, testified that there appeared to be no changes in water quality or debris in the bay after the event.
The trial will continue to Wednesday, although it’s not clear when a federal judge is expected to make a ruling on the case.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Joseph Geever’s last name, the acronym for the Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation and when the first Big Bang on the Bay event was held.