The Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation approved without objection a proposed bill prohibiting the use of fireworks in Wellington’s Equestrian Overlay Zoning District on Thursday, Jan. 7 during a hearing on local bills held at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) said he did not support a bill that passed last year allowing fireworks on holidays due to injuries sustained by people using fireworks, as well as their effects on animals.
“As a firefighter for the past 28 years, I’ve seen the injuries that come from fireworks, and the other is the unintended consequences,” Willhite said. “Wellington is one of the single largest economic drivers, if not the largest, in Palm Beach County dealing with the equestrian season.”
He pointed out that the highly valued horses are spooked by fireworks. Two years ago, a horse in Wellington sold for over $5 million, he noted.
“We’re talking about horses that are at the top of their game, whether it’s competing nationally or worldwide in the Olympics, and these horses are affected by these fireworks,” Willhite said.
The bill asks that fireworks be prohibited only in Wellington’s equestrian areas.
“It’s not the entire community, it’s one specific area that’s already identified in that geographical boundary. Fireworks can be banned in that area so that we can protect these equestrians.”
Wellington Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said the bill would prohibit the use of fireworks on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Independence Day, which had been permitted in the bill passed last year.
“Wellington is known as the ‘Winter Equestrian Capital of the World,’” Cohen said. “Many thousands come to Wellington during the winter months to participate in and enjoy the events and enjoy equestrian sports.”
The winter residents and tourists directly generate about $196 million in the sale of goods and services in Wellington and the county, and $110 million in tourism, she said.
“Wellington houses approximately 13,000 horses during the equestrian season, most of which are highly valued,” she said. “It’s well established that these horses are startled by loud noises and sudden flashing lights, and they are very frightened by fireworks.”
Cohen pointed out that many of the horses are in stalls and injure themselves trying to get out when fireworks are going on.
“Wellington’s residents are very concerned about the safety of their highly valued horses and for themselves when these fireworks occur,” she said. “Our Equestrian Preserve Committee, which represents the equestrian community and the various equestrian disciplines within Wellington, has submitted a letter of support for this bill.”
Cohen said Florida Statutes prohibit the use of fireworks except to frighten birds on agricultural lands, but last year the legislature created an exception to the statute that permits the use of fireworks on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Independence Day. As a result, Wellington has seen a dramatic increase in the use of fireworks on those days. The bill under consideration would prohibit the use of fireworks only in the equestrian overlay.
A motion was made to approve the bill, which carried with no objections. Approval by the local delegation moves the bill forward to being introduced in Tallahassee during the upcoming legislative session.