Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota is taking the Biden administration to court over its refusal to allow fireworks at Mount Rushmore to celebrate Independence Day.
Saying that the Biden administration has refused to reply to multiple state requests to collaborate and find a way to hold the event, the state is asking the U.S. District Court, for the District of South Dakota Central Division, to “expeditiously” issue a permit allowing the event to be held, according to Fox News. The suit was filed Friday.
“Mount Rushmore is the very best place to celebrate America’s birthday and all that makes our country special,” Noem wrote. “After telling us they’d ‘circle back,’ the Biden Administration has not responded to our request to uphold the Memorandum Agreement between the State of South Dakota and the National Parks Service to host a safe and responsible national celebration and fireworks show.”
Noem said the Biden administration has “departed from longstanding precedent and reneged on this agreement without any meaningful explanation.”
“We are asking the court to enjoin the Department of Interior’s (DOI) denial of the fireworks permit and order it to issue a permit for the event expeditiously,” she wrote.
According the lawsuit, an agreement was put in place in 2019 to hold fireworks shows, but “the new administration departed from this longstanding precedent and reneged on the agreement without any meaningful explanation.”
“On March 11, 2021, DOI sent the State an abrupt, 620-word letter stating that the Independence Day fireworks show would not be allowed at the Memorial this year. The letter contained no specific factual findings, referenced no implementing laws or governing regulations, and included no discussion of any other objective determinations,” the suit continued.
According to the lawsuit, “[t]he denial letter was instead a patchwork of vague and speculative purported concerns.”
“The reasons DOI did offer were inconsistent with its own regulations, contradicted by the administrative record, and made no attempt to justify DOI’s abrupt about–face after its approval of last year’s event.”
Noem has been battling for months to hold the event.
Earlier this month, she wrote President Joe Biden asking him to let the celebration go forward, according to a news release posted on her website, saying it would be a fitting way to mark the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
“This year, as we mark our independence from [COVID-19], Mount Rushmore would be the perfect place for a national celebration and fireworks show,” she wrote, referring to comments Biden made that Independence Day was a target date for a return to normal life in America.
“We are committed to hosting a Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration that is safe and responsible and working closely with the National Parks Service (NPS) to do so. I respectfully ask that you continue the hopeful message you shared earlier this year and uphold our Agreement to host the event this year,” she wrote.
In the letter, Noem added that despite claims by the Parks Service that there were health and safety issues related to COVID-19, contact tracing did not find any cases linked to last year’s event at the monument.
The lawsuit said the facts contradict concerns about spreading COVID-19, citing the letter Noem sent Biden.
“Governor Noem also explained how DOI’s analysis is inconsistent with both recent history and the administrative record. DOI claimed that it would be ‘difficult, if not impossible’ to safely conduct the fireworks show under pandemic conditions,” the lawsuit stated.
“But as Governor Noem pointed out, the State held an identical fireworks show for seven thousand people last year under far greater public health threats before a single person had been vaccinated.”
The suit referenced a March letter in which the Parks Service denied Noem’s request. Regional Director Herbert Frost wrote South Dakota’s tourism department to say the service was “unable to grant a request to have fireworks at the Memorial,” according to The Hill.
“Potential risks to the park itself and to the health and safety of employees and visitors associated with the fireworks demonstration continue to be a concern and are still being evaluated as a result of the 2020 event,” Frost wrote.
Fireworks at the landmark had been stopped since 2009 due to wildfire risks before last year’s extravaganza, which included an appearance by former President Donald Trump.
Frost also said that the wishes of Native Americans in the region should come first.
“In addition, the park’s many tribal partners expressly oppose fireworks at the Memorial,” he wrote.
Frost also indicated that in spite of Biden’s comments about returning to normal by the Fourth, “[t]hese factors, compiled with the COVID-19 pandemic, do not allow a safe and responsible fireworks display to be held at this site.”
Noem has said that such concerns are not supported by scientific evidence, and she is willing to work with governmental and community partners to hold an event on July 3, so that the area can be open for tourists on July 4 itself.
Noem has emerged as a strong critic of the president, and recently summed up Biden’s first 100 days by saying his “partisanship has sewn disunity and made it clear that he is not a President for all Americans.”
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