Fireworks set for blast-off in Scarborough

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2 big retailers ‘extremely serious’ about coming to town

SCARBOROUGH — With the town opting not to override a state law that legalizes consumer fireworks as of Jan. 1, two national explosives retailers have made overtures about coming to Scarborough.

Alabama-based TNT Fireworks, which claims to be the world’s largest fireworks distributor, and Ohio-based Phantom Fireworks, which has 1,200 locations nationwide, have contacted officials at Town Hall, the Planning Department and the Fire Department.

Representatives of two companies have also talked with the Scarborough Economic Development Corp., according to Assistant Director Karen Martin. She declined to identify the companies, citing client confidentiality, but said it’s likely they will make decisions soon.

“I think it’s safe to say that the people who have talked with us are extremely serious about doing business here,” Martin said Thursday.

The state law allows consumer fireworks – not the giant explosives seen at professional fireworks shows – to be sold anywhere and used by adults on their own properties. It also allows municipalities to limit the sale and use of the amateur explosives, which Scarborough has so far declined to do.

Now that the town has rejected a ban, Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said he also expects more movement from the fireworks companies.

“They’ve been looking at the whole area, not just Scarborough,” Thurlow said. “But based on their level of interest, I certainly expect something to come forward.”

TNT Fireworks also sent a representative to try to persuade neighboring South Portland to allow fireworks, but the City Council still adopted a ban. Portland and Cape Elizabeth also went with full prohibition.

Neighboring Westbrook and Gorham are fireworks-friendly, but it’s likely retailers will find Scarborough’s proximity to the Maine Mall area preferable, Town Manager Tom Hall said.

On its website, Phantom Fireworks has a pin on the map near the South Portland/Scarborough border.

Because the approval process for setting up shop could take months, there is some concern that the companies could begin the process before the town establishes definitive guidelines.

The Town Council’s Ordinance Committee is scheduled to again take up the question of whether to restrict when or where fireworks can be used when it reconvenes later this month.

Hall lamented the amount of time the council has spent on the issue, and said the state law could have been passed in a way that would have ignited less controversy.

“I don’t think anyone was trying to make it complicated, but the law wasn’t really well written,” he said Tuesday. “It has really handed the local level a mess to deal with. It’s been an issue that’s dominated municipal agendas all summer and fall, and it will continue to … keep us away from other business.”

Hall and some others have said the best way to approach the fireworks question is with a wait-and-see attitude. With two exceptions – Councilors Karen D’Andrea and Carol Rancourt – councilors have said they don’t believe allowing fireworks under the state’s guidelines will cause problems.

“I don’t see it being a big problem,” Council Chairman Ron Ahlquist said Wednesday. “I’m confident the details can be worked out.”

But Hall has concerns about the town’s noise abatement ordinance, which bars “loud, disturbing and unnecessary noises.”

Seeking a way to mesh the ordinance with the new state law, Hall presented modified language last week that listed fireworks as an accepted use, but only within daytime hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Hall said those hours were picked because they are the times already set forth in the noise ordinance. But councilors said they were inadequate because during the summer the sun doesn’t set until after 9 p.m. The council ultimately balked and kicked the issue back to the Ordinance Committee.

The state law will allow consumer fireworks to be used from 9 a.m to 10 p.m. every day; 9 a.m. July 3 to 12:30 a.m. July 4; 9 a.m. Dec. 31 to 12:30 a.m. Jan. 1, and on the weekends before and after the Fourth of July and New Year’s Day. 

Hall said he is concerned that Scarborough police could be asked to enforce the noise ordinance if someone complains about fireworks, which he said could definitely be construed as “loud, disturbing and unnecessary.” Ambiguity could become an issue without language in the ordinance to carve out an exception for the explosives, he said.

“It’s hugely problematic if we don’t at least have consumer fireworks in our noise ordinance,” he said. “It seems unwise to me to turn a blind eye to that.”

Several ideas have been aired about limiting the times or locations fireworks can be used in Scarborough.

Councilor Jessica Holbrook has said that restricting their use in more densely populated areas might be necessary. Rancourt has proposed limiting the days they can be used to holidays only. Hall suggested using the Maine Turnpike as a dividing line, with fireworks allowed to the west, but not the east, of the highway.

But with at least three councilors – Ahlquist, Richard Sullivan and Jim Benedict – all interested in letting the state law take effect, at least for now, any attempt to limit the scope of the law could face hurdles.

Benedict said Wednesday that people have been using fireworks for as long as he can remember, even though they were illegal. He said he doubts it will suddenly become a problem.

“I don’t think there will be any more or any less than there have been the last 50 years,” he said. “… There are certain people in the world who just don’t like anything, period. You’re not going to satisfy them.”

In the meantime, adult residents of Scarborough who can get their hands on fireworks will be free to use them on their own property starting Jan. 1.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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