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Noem Accuses Biden Administration Of Breaking 2019 Fireworks Agreement



Governor Kristi Noem wants President Joe Biden to reinstate the Fourth of July fireworks at Mount Rushmore. 

The call comes less than a month after spring wildfires led to evacuations in west Rapid City and the temporary closing of the shrine of democracy. 

Governor Noem says the Park Service is reneging on a Memorandum of Agreement between that agency and the state of South Dakota. 

The agreement from 2019 states the Department of the Interior and the state agree to pursue working to return fireworks to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial in a safe and responsible manner. 

The Park Service says the coronavirus, fire hazard and water contamination are reasons for discontinuing the fireworks, which returned last year and were attended by then-President Donald Trump. 

Noem points to a federal document that states the event would not harm the Black Hills. But the document also acknowledges fireworks could pollute groundwater with a chemical compound. 

Ian Fury is a spokesperson for the governor’s office. He says each concern outlined by the Park Service was taken into consideration for last year’s event. 

“And all of those concerns were found to be addressed,” Fury says. “So, my question would be what’s changed? If anything, on several of those issues, we’ve only improved over the last year. For instance, with COVID, nobody can really argue that the nation is anywhere but on the downswing with regards to COVID. In fact, President Biden said July 4th is going to be the day we mark our independence from the virus.” 

President Biden said he wants to meet a goal of small family gatherings and did not call for gatherings of large groups. Approximately 7,000 people attended the fireworks show in 2020. 

Governor Noem also responds to National Park Service concerns about tribal opposition, saying the state values its partnerships with the nine tribes within the state’s borders. She says the tribes were consulted and invited to attend. 

According to an environmental assessment by the park service, “all tribes consulted objected to the event and regard it as inappropriate.” 

Before the fireworks, one tribal chairman said they’re being “forced to witness the lashing of our land with pomp, arrogance and fire, hoping our sacred lands will survive.” 

Noem is considered a 2024 presidential contender. 

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.