Some spectators thought the new procedure for Wheeling's recent fireworks displays was a dud, but the change was mandated to protect the Wheeling Suspension Bridge.
For years, Wheeling's fireworks have been set off from the downtown span, ending with a waterfall of fiery color spraying from it.
But this year, the West Virginia Department of Transportation Division of Highways refused to allow fireworks to be set off from the Suspension Bridge, said Allison O'Konski, city marketing and community relations specialist. The move affected fireworks displays for West Virginia's 150th birthday on June 20 and for Independence Day this week.
Smaller fireworks shells were instead set off from Wheeling Island during both events, while larger ones were fired from just south of WesBanco Arena. Some watchers told city officials it was awkward to have "dueling" fireworks locations, and they missed the traditional waterfall finale, O'Konski said.
"There are people who are not happy," she acknowledged. "The gist of it is we can't use the bridge - at least for now."
The Division of Highways plans to spend $8.2 million to renovate the Suspension Bridge, according to O'Konski. The work is to begin in summer 2014 and is expected to be completed "over the next several years," she said.
The city and the fireworks provider, Pyrotechnics by Presutti Inc. of Bellaire, worked together and determined the two shooting locations, O'Konski said. The Wheeling Island location is in an area near the bridge, but does not provide the necessary open space to fire larger fireworks shells, she said. It was determined larger, "finale-type" shells would instead be shot south of WesBanco Arena.
"Depending on your angle, you might not have been able to see the finale," O'Konski said. "And people were expecting the waterfall from the bridge. They were not happy at all.
City officials and Pyrotechnics by Presutti realized the visibility issue existed on June 20, but there was not enough time before July 4 to make location changes to the permit granted by the West Virginia Fire Marshal's Office, she said.
The city co-sponsors the annual Independence Day fireworks with the Wheeling Symphony.
"We tried to do what we thought we could given you can't use Suspension Bridge," said Bruce Wheeler, executive director of the symphony. "The fact we couldn't have a waterfall was disappointing, and people were focused on that."
Belmont County Sheriff David Lucas also serves as manger of commercial operations for Pyrotechnics by Presutti.
He said the company may look into shooting fireworks from a barge on the Ohio River next year, but said the expense would take away from the number of shells in the fireworks show.