South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem sent a letter Tuesday requesting that President Biden reverse his administration’s ban on an Independence Day fireworks celebration at Mount Rushmore this year, arguing doing so would be in keeping with an agreement the federal government made with her state last year.
“There is a long history of celebrations of American independence at Mount Rushmore National Memorial, including fireworks displays from 1998 to 2009 and again in 2020,” she said.
“This year, as we mark our independence from this virus, Mount Rushmore would be a perfect place for a national celebration and fireworks show,” Noem added. She pointed to Biden’s recent comments aiming to allow small gatherings in a victory against the virus on Independence Day.
The National Parks Service (NPS) notified the state of its decision last month, citing concerns about COVID-19, tribal objections and alleged danger to the park itself. In a letter to the state tourism office, NPS Regional Director Herbert Frost suggested that the 2019 agreement allowed for cancellation if the state could not follow the agreement’s resolution to display fireworks in a “safe and responsible manner.” Noem objected on Tuesday, arguing the “facts and data tell a very different story.”
Last year, the state hosted a display last year that included an appearance from former President Donald Trump, provoking criticism that the state flouted guidance on social distancing during a pandemic. But as Noem noted in her letter, contact tracing was unable to track a single case back to the event.
She also pointed to an NPS Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) signed by Frost and issued last April. In it, NPS outlined guidance for a fireworks event that “does not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”
Her request came as the nation surpassed more than a year since states started imposing substantial restrictions due to the pandemic, although Noem has refused to impose widespread lockdowns, citing concerns about the impact on South Dakotans’ freedoms and the state economy.
On Tuesday, she tweeted a happy birthday message for one of Mount Rushmore’s iconic figures, former President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, who wrote the seminal document outlining America’s reasons for independence, was born on April 13, 1743.
Noem’s letter details a series of actions she said her state took to ensure a safe environment, including following items on the National Environmental Policy Act checklist. In order to allow people to enjoy the memorial on July 4, Noem said the celebration would take place on July 3.
“We are committed to hosting a Mount Rushmore Fireworks Celebration that is safe and responsible and working closely with NPS to do so,” the governor said in closing.
“I respectfully ask that you continue that hopeful message you shared earlier this month and uphold our Agreement to host the event this year.”
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