Feds once again nix Noem's Mount Rushmore fireworks event

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — The National Park Service has denied South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem’s request to mark the Fourth of July with fireworks at Mount Rushmore, citing opposition from Native American tribes as well as the possibility of igniting wildfires.

“Mount Rushmore is the best place in America to celebrate our nation’s birthday – I just wish President Biden could see that,” the Republican governor said in a statement Tuesday. “Last year, the President hypocritically held a fireworks celebration in Washington, D.C., while denying us our own event. This year, it looks like they are planning to do the same."

Noem said she would continue a court battle to hold the fireworks. She filed a federal lawsuit against the Biden administration after it refused to issue a permit for a similar celebration last year. A federal judge rejected her arguments in June, prompting an appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

In a letter dated Monday from the U.S. Department of Interior, Mount Rushmore National Memorial Superintendent Michelle Wheatley said a fireworks event would not be “safe and responsible.”

Noem successfully pushed for a return of the event in 2020 after a decadelong hiatus. It gave former President Donald Trump an opportunity to be featured at a patriotic display attended by thousands of people during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the letter to the South Dakota Department of Tourism, Wheatley noted the March 2021 wildfire that closed the memorial for three days.

“Current drought conditions and the 2022 wildfire outlook indicate that fireworks would cause a high likelihood of a wildfire ignition,” she wrote.

Local Native American tribes objected to the celebration being held on land they hold as sacred.

“There is ample documented opposition for the Tribes to the 2020 event, and we understand from ongoing meetings with the Tribes that these concerns have not diminished.” the letter stated.