Falmouth council considers fireworks ban, delays dog leash law

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FALMOUTH — Fireworks may be banned if an ordinance being drafted by town staff is approved by the Town Council.

Four councilors – a voting majority – indicated during a workshop Monday evening that they would support the ban.

The council also heard from the public on proposed dog leash laws and clean-up rules, bans on ATVs and changes to hunting areas on the town’s parks and public lands. 

Consumer sale and possession of fireworks becomes legal in Maine on Jan. 1, 2012. But local communities have to right to enact tighter controls.

“I would favor seeing a strict ban on fireworks. I think it puts undue pressure on our volunteer fire department,” Councilor Tony Payne said. 

Payne said he loves fireworks, but also regaled the council with a story of setting a field in New York on fire when he let some fireworks get out of hand.

“As long as you allow fireworks in a community, they will be present,” Payne said. “I don’t think we should be ambiguous about this. Those wishing to see fireworks can enjoy them on Portland’s Eastern Prom (on the Fourth of July).”

Chairwoman Teresa Pierce and Councilors Bonny Rodden and Chris Orestis agreed.

Councilor Faith Varney suggested that the town allow fireworks only over water. But Town Manager Nathan Poore pointed out that rocket-propelled fireworks are not allowed under state law, making an “over-water” rule difficult to enforce.

Councilor Will Armitage rejected the suggestion of a fireworks ban.

“It’s not goverment’s role to tell people what they can and can’t do,” Armitage said.

But he also said he would prefer a permit process that would allow people to use fireworks if they obtained prior approval from the Fire Department.

Poore said the goal would be to have the proposed ban in place by Jan 1.

Portland has moved to ban both the sale and use of fireworks in the city.

Other area communities, including Yarmouth, South Portland and Scarborough, have reviewed possible bans or restrictions, but have not made anything official.

Freeport had an ordinance banning the sale and use of fireworks, except on July 3, 4 and 5, on the books before the state law was passed. The Town Council is currently reviewing possible changes and updates to that ordinance to better reflect the new state law. The council is holding a public hearing Oct. 4 on the issue.

Leashes, hunting, ATVS

The council also held a public hearing on changes to the Parks and Public Lands ordinance that would change where people can hunt and where dogs are allowed off leash on town-owned property.

Four people spoke at the hearing, three against a seasonal leash law aimed at protecting breeding wildlife. One speaker requested a leash law for Town Landing, which is not included in the proposed ordinance changes.

“My experience swimming at Town Landing has been marred by dogs,” said Woodville Road resident Laura Williams. “They run all over the place, and defecate everywhere so the beach is full of landmines of poop. I would like to see an enforceable leash law.”

Other residents disagreed.

“I walk my dog on Town Landing beach every day. I hardly ever see dog poop there,” Carol Ward said. 

She said she frequently walks her dog on public lands and sees other dog walkers whose animals are under control. She added that encouraging wildlife on some public land is a bad idea.

“Do we really want deer on Route 88? Do we really want deer on the Foreside?” she asked. “They’re really just rodents with antlers.”

Poore said he and town staff are interested in exploring complete bans on dogs for some town property, while allowing them off leash on others, depending on the property. He proposed that the council vote on the hunting and ATV changes without the leash laws.

The council unanimously agreed and will vote on the changes without the dog leash rules at a future meeting.

Hunting will be banned at Community, Pine Grove, Walton and Presumpscot Falls parks, and Pleasant Hill Preserve. Only bow hunting will be allowed in Town Forest. Permanent deer stands will no longer be allowed on any town property, although temporary structures are still OK.

The language also clarifies previous rules that only implied ATVs are not allowed on town property. If the ordinance is approved, ATVs will be banned.

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