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Goodbye, Fourth of July fireworks, hello, drone show? Lake Worth Beach may consider it

Updated: Jan 20, 2023

LAKE WORTH BEACH city commissioners are open to the idea of replacing the city’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display with a colorful high-tech light show produced by swarms of drones.

Instead of being launched from the city’s traditional fireworks spot in Bryant Park, the drone display could take place over the Atlantic Ocean at the end of the William O. Lockhart Municipal Pier.

“I think they are beautiful and quiet and would be innovative and another forward-thinking thing for us,’’ said Mayor Betty Resch, who broached the idea last year.

Commissioner Reinaldo Diaz agrees. “It would give us an opportunity to have a really special show that stands out in South Florida,’’ he said.

But fans of the city’s annual fireworks display have no reason to explode just yet. The drone-show idea has generated only limited, sporadic talk, and commissioners have not given city staff any formal direction to research it.

The topic came up again at a City Commission meeting Jan. 3 during a discussion about a proposal to prohibit the launching of drones from certain city properties.

The law, approved that night on first reading, is aimed at protecting the American Oystercatcher and other birds and wildlife that come under stress when drones fly near their nests in the Snook Islands Natural Area off Bryant Park.

Fireworks over Lake Worth Beach on July 4, 2019 (Carol Jardine/Facebook)

Commissioners approved the flight restrictions after oystercatchers were seen attacking a drone that was taking video and photographs of the city’s annual Great American Raft Race on July 4. That incident, involving a drone some witnesses said was operated by city staff, appears to have been an unintentional accident.

American oystercatchers, listed as a protected species by the state, perceive drones as predators. The sound and presence of the flying devices induce oystercatchers to abandon their nests, making their unprotected hatchlings vulnerable to predators.

Some drone operators, not just in Lake Worth Beach, purposely fly the devices for the thrill of watching oystercatchers attack drones.

The discussion about the drone prohibition got Diaz thinking: If drones flying over Snook Islands can disturb oystercatchers, fireworks exploding over the islands can’t be any better for the birds.

That led him to rekindle Resch’s idea of replacing fireworks with a lighted drone show — a proposal he agreed “might upset some” people who are fans of fireworks displays.

“I am glad to bring it up now,’’ he said Jan. 3, “because I think, mayor, you've expressed interest in this in that instead of doing fireworks, what if we did a drone show, something a little more innovative and less intrusive on animals, dogs and cats included. We should also maybe start talking about having that event off the end of the pier where it would have less of an impact on our birds.’’

Resch said she agreed, but the discussion, after less than three minutes, shifted back to the proposed drone-launching prohibition, which was passed on a final vote Jan. 17.

After the Jan. 3 meeting, Commissioners Kim Stokes and Christopher McVoy said they would be open to discussing a Fourth of July drone show, but they have a few concerns.

Among them: the cost of a drone show, the expected backlash from residents who love watching fireworks at Bryant Park and whether a choreographed drone show can match the eye-appeal of a pyrotechnic display.

If commissioners ever end up approving the plan, Lake Worth Beach wouldn’t be the first community to replace a traditional fireworks display with a drone show.

Across the United States, drone displays have increased in popularity in recent years as an alternative to fireworks, especially in the west and southwest where the threats of wildfires have prompted alternative ideas. Miami’s Coconut Grove was among towns in Miami-Dade County that put one on last year.

“You certainly can mimic what fireworks look like, but that doesn't really explore the full potential of drone shows. It's a whole new medium,’’ said Rick Boss, chief executive officer of Sky Elements Drone Shows in Fort Worth, Texas.

The first drone show was put on about eight years ago, he said, so they are still relatively ''novel'' for the majority of the public. But demand for Fourth of July drone shows has been increasing since the pandemic.

Two years ago, Sky Elements put on eight drone shows on the Fourth of July. In 2022, they did 28.

“This year I already have over 30 booked for the Fourth of July with (requests for a proposal) still coming in,’’ said Boss, whose company put on more than 300 drone shows last year for various events across the United States, the most among three main companies that offer them.

And though drones lack the obvious audible booms of a pyrotechnic display, they can be just as spectacular to the eye as fireworks, he said.

A swarm of 200 drones can light the sky 400 feet high and 500 feet wide. And they can produce breathtaking animated images, from swimming sea turtles to leaping dolphins to a swaying Liberty Bell and Star Wars TIE fighter.

But drone shows are not cheap. And they usually don’t last more than 15 minutes because of battery life.

Depending on how many drones are used, they can start at about $10,000 for a small display and go up to more than $100,000 for large ones.

“On average, when a city looks to replace a fireworks show, right now drone shows are still a bit more expensive,’’ said Boss. “Long term I don't think they will become less (expensive) than fireworks but I think they will get closer.’’

Lake Worth Beach budgets about $20,000 for fireworks each year. The city’s contract with Explosive Touch Enterprises expired in July. (It was a three-year contract with two annual renewals.) The city has not yet issued a request for proposals for a 2023 fireworks display.

Rick Boss

The city's Fourth of July fireworks display last year was a dud. A technical malfunction ended the show less than three minutes after it started. Whether that inspires city commissioners to try something different this year remains to be seen.

Diaz said he hopes city officials will at least look into researching the affordability of a drone show for the city's next Fourth of July celebration.

“We will always have the raft race,'' he said, "but if we culminated with the drone show at the end of the pier, I think it would be something that's really epic and people would come from all over to our town.’’

Many communities put on both fireworks and drone shows, Boss said. And he said the best way to experience one is to see it live, not on a television or smartphone screen.

“People often ask me if fireworks are going to go away and will drone shows replace them. I say absolutely not,’’ he said.

“There are things fireworks can do that we can't and there are things drones can do that fireworks can't. What I can do is tell a story with drones better than fireworks. If you want to see images that are important to your community, you can't do that with fireworks. At the same time, I don’t have the ability to have that big finale to a fireworks show. It's more of just different way to celebrate, a different way to entertain a crowd.’’

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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.


Unknown member
Jan 17, 2023

I love this idea. Fireworks are very bad for the environment. Lead, titanium, strontium, copper and other heavy metals land in the water and soil. Bring on the drones! PS My dogs agree.


Unknown member
Jan 17, 2023

Honor the Fourth with fireworks. Tradition matters. Try the drones for Christmas maybe or to kick off the Street Painting Festival or maybe Pride weekend.


Unknown member
Jan 17, 2023

I’m hearing so little about Rodney Mayo in the Palm Beach Post. Can you write more about him? He seems like a guy I’d like to vote for in this next election.

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