Proposed ban on fireworks goes to Cumberland council

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed fireworks ban at its Monday, Dec. 12, meeting.

The ordinance, developed by the council’s three-member ordinance subcommittee and presented to the council Monday, would ban the sale and use of consumer fireworks in town or on watercraft within town waters.

“The public safety chiefs and myself support the ordinance that’s before you,” Town Manager Bill Shane told the council.

A state law that takes effect Jan. 1, 2012, legalizes consumer fireworks, but allows municipalities to enact local restrictions on use and sale.

Portland, Falmouth, Freeport, Yarmouth, North Yarmouth, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth have already prohibited the sale and use of fireworks, while Gray, Gorham, Scarborough and Westbrook have rejected bans. Windham and Brunswick have decisions pending.

Councilor Steve Moriarty, who served with Councilors Shirley Storey-King and George Turner on the subcommittee, noted that they were presenting the council with “not quite a recommendation, but just a draft of what represents … the least interventionist thing that we could do under the new law.”

The subcommittee recommended a fine of $200 for violating the ban, Moriarty said, although that, too, could be changed by the council.

Consumer fireworks tend to be smaller and less powerful than those known as commercial display fireworks, according to the Maine Municipal Association. Missile-type rockets are prohibited, along with helicopters and aerial spinners, as well as sky rockets and bottle rockets.

Turner suggested the Town Council could choose not to ban consumer fireworks, but to restrict them to July 4 and the end of the year, when use is more typical. He said his biggest concern is the noise they produce.

Storey-King said she wondered if consumer fireworks could be allowed in some areas of town, but banned in others.

“My opinion is, we should do nothing,” said Doug Pride, a licensed pyrotechnician from Cumberland. “Allow the state law to take effect. It’s a freedom issue, and it’s as simple as that.”

He said consumer fireworks have become less dangerous in recent decades, and he noted that the state does not allow people to buy display fireworks unless they are licensed users. Ordinary firecrackers used to be dangerous, Pride said, but they pack less powder these days.

Pride noted that fireworks can cause fires and must be used with common sense. He pointed out that the new state law will require fireworks sellers to pass out safety sheets.

“Certainly, in a congested area you’ve got to use some common sense and be reasonable about it,” he said. “I live up on Crystal Lane; I’m not going to light any firecrackers in my backyard, because (there are) neighbors all around. But there’s plenty of area in the town where it wouldn’t be a bother to anybody.”

Councilor Ron Copp noted that with people unable to buy legal fireworks, some may resort to making their own.

“I think, let the state control it,” Copp said. “Because if (people) can go buy firecrackers, they might not try to make their own and blow their fingers off.”

Councilor Tom Gruber, who suggested a permitting process, said his concern is fires.

“I can’t get around that issue,” he said. “… I agree, you can give someone a piece of paper, and you can give them instructions; they’ll probably use that to light the fireworks. I don’t see that being enough without some type of control.”

Pride said he has seen “very, very few fires,” and that “it is an issue, but it’s probably a little bit overrated.”

He suggested that fireworks could be banned in drier conditions, if they were allowed in general.

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

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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.