Petition to overturn Topsham fireworks ban may have enough signatures

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TOPSHAM — Selectman David Douglass, who in June launched a petition to overturn a local ban on the sale and use of consumer fireworks, believes he has enough signatures to take the matter to a vote.

Douglass’ petition calls for the ban to be overturned, and for the sale and use of fireworks to be allowed in accordance with state law.

Under that law, fireworks were permitted in Topsham from Jan. 1-June 12, when a referendum vote enacted the ban. Douglass has said he would like the question to go to referendum again in November, when he expects a larger turnout for the general election.

Douglass began collecting signatures June 15 and has to submit 459 (10 percent of Topsham residents who voted in the most recent gubernatorial election) by Sept. 15.

As of Monday, he said, about 475 had been collected and he hopes to exceed 500.

“We have enough signatures at this time,” Douglass said, adding “we’re trying to get some extras in case any aren’t valid for any reason.”

Douglass said he plans to present the signatures at Town Hall on Friday morning, Sept. 7.

“I think … it’s going to be close,” he said, “because there’s a fair amount of people that have politely declined (to sign); they’re happy with (the ban) as it is.”

He said response to the petition drive had been “very good,” noting that some people expressed confusion with the wording of the original referendum question.

Two ballot questions on June 12 each presented voters with three choices on fireworks. The first question asked about the sale of consumer fireworks, while the second involved fireworks use. Voters were asked to pick one of the three options presented under each question.

Question 1A asked whether the town should “neither regulate nor prohibit the sale of consumer fireworks and therefore permit the sale of consumer fireworks in accordance with state law?” That question received 436 votes.

Question 2A asked the same thing, but in respect to the use of consumer fireworks, and received 419 votes.

Question 1B asked voters if they wanted to enact a zoning ordinance regulating fireworks sales, which 227 voters favored. Question 1C asked whether an ordinance prohibiting those sales should be enacted, and 565 – the majority – voted for that option.

The second and third parts of Question 2 also involved ordinances to either regulate fireworks use, or ban it. Two hundred fifty-nine voters favored regulation, while 540 preferred prohibition.

Douglass has noted that if the first two parts of each question – which called for some kind of legal sale or use – were added together, their total be greater than the third, which called for a ban on the sale or use. Fifty-four percent voted for some kind of sale, while 56 percent favored some manner of use.

“In my opinion a majority, because it was split three ways, essentially didn’t get what they were looking for,” Douglass said in June.

He said his proposed November referendum would simply ask voters if they want the sale and use of fireworks.

Douglass has been circulating the petitions as a private citizen. Donald Russell, chairman of the Board of Selectman, noted in June that the petition is not endorsed by selectmen, but is an “individual’s decision, as a selectman, and he has the perfect right to do that. As a citizen, he doesn’t give up his right any more than any of us does.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.