Falmouth bans fireworks, targets Metro bus contract

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council banned the sale and use of consumer fireworks Monday in advance of a new state law that will allow people to use the explosives as of Jan. 1, 2012.

The council also revisited the town’s investment in the Metro bus service that runs between Portland and Falmouth.

Councilors voted 5-1, with Councilor Will Armitage opposed, to enact the fireworks ban.

Several councilors noted that many nearby towns are also banning fireworks as the effective date of the new state law approaches. It allows the sale and use of some types of fireworks, but also allows municipalities to enact local restrictions.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a safety issue,” Councilor Bonny Rodden said. “I would not want to be the only town allowing fireworks when other towns around us do not.”

Portland, Freeport, North Yarmouth, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth have prohibited the sale and use of fireworks. Gray and Westbrook have allowed them. Cumberland, Yarmouth, Scarborough, Windham and Gorham are still in discussions.

At a previous meeting, Councilor Tony Payne advocated strongly for the ban, citing the possibility of injury from uncontrolled explosions, and the added pressure it would put on the town’s volunteer Fire Department.

No one spoke during a public hearing on the amendment Oct. 24.

Armitage said at the Sept. 12 meeting when the ban was introduced that he would have preferred to restrict where fireworks can be used, while allowing their use in the less-populated areas of town.

Metro bus

The council also took up a familiar discussion about Metro, and will be open the discussion to the public at its next meeting on Nov. 28.

Payne suggested discussing ending the agreement with the bus service, which runs several routes between Falmouth and Portland. If the town wants to eliminate the service, it must give Metro notice by Jan. 1, 2012.

In fiscal 2011, the town paid for the service with $30,000 from a dedicated mass transit account created in 2003 to support the Metro contract.

“We’re not seeing the meteoric rises (in ridership),” Payne said. “We see some seasonal jumps. I’m just looking for a discussion tonight to find out the temperature of the council.”

Councilor Fred Chase was the only one who joined the call to end the contract. Other councilors spoke passionately in favor of maintaining the service, including Armitage.

“I just see Metro being a key piece of continued growth and development (along Route 1),” he said.

Armitage argued that the benefits of public transportation outweigh what the town pays to maintain the service, and that the benefits to the town’s largest taxpayers – Walmart and OceanView – are important to consider.

“Are you telling me that the tax revenue we get from these two businesses isn’t enough to cover the whole bill,” Armitage asked. “Walmart could be coming in, saying, ‘why do I pay for public education in this town? I don’t educate anyone here.'”

However, Payne argued that the approximately 7 percent increase in ridership the bus service has seen since it began in 2004 was not enough, and that he frequently sees empty buses traveling the route.

“We do not have the demographics in this town to be a Metro district,” Payne said. “We do not have the household incomes that tend to ride buses. And as for the environmental impact, running empty buses through town – 13 trips back and forth each day – burns natural resources. I have a hard time believing this is a wise use of Falmouth’s resources.”

Rodden, who sits on the Metro board, spoke as passionately in favor of maintaining service.

“These statistics, where you see them as a failure, I see them as a success. It’s an increase (in ridership) year after year, where the (full Metro district) hasn’t always gone up,” Rodden said.

She argued that businesses such as Tidewater and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension advertise that they’re on the bus route, and that Route 1 businesses rely on the service to transport shoppers and employees.

Council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce and Councilor Chris Orestis said they would not vote to abolish the bus service. Councilor Faith Varney said she wants to hear from the public before she decides.

A public hearing and a vote on the issue was scheduled for Nov. 28. But on Monday it didn’t appear Payne has the four votes needed to kill the contract, even if Varney and Chase vote in favor of his proposal.

The council has also scheduled a public hearing Nov. 28 on whether to make improvements to railroad crossings to allow for a train whistle quiet zone, in anticipation of the increased rail traffic once the Amtrak Downeaster service is extended to Brunswick.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.