Topsham selectmen send fireworks decision to referendum

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TOPSHAM — Residents will decide in a June referendum whether to ban consumer fireworks or to allow them with some restrictions.

The Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to send four fireworks-related questions to referendum, instead of to the May 16 Town Meeting. Selectman David Douglass opposed the motion.

Two proposed ordinances would ban the sale and use of fireworks. Two others are proposed amendments to the town code regarding the sale of consumer fireworks in certain areas of town and the use of those devices with some restrictions.

“I still am a strong believer of taking the … article to Town Meeting, to let the people decide whether they want to ban fireworks or not ban fireworks in the town of Topsham,” Chairman Donald Russell said early in the March 8 discussion.

He added that he did not think the sale of fireworks would have as great an impact on the town as the use would. Russell favored sending the use question to Town Meeting, but having the Planning Board settle the sale issue.

“In my opinion it’s a zoning issue and a licensing issue, as opposed to taking it to Town Meeting,” he said.

But Selectman Andrew Mason noted that “it seems odd to … allow a ban on use, without the corresponding ability to ban the sale.” He said that if the devices are allowed to be sold, it could be assumed that the town is implicitly allowing their use.

Resident Bill Fitzsimmons argued that all four fireworks-related items should go on the Town Meeting warrant.

“In my opinion, both of those decisions should be made at Town Meeting by the voters: the sale and the use,” he said. “… The citizens of the town of Topsham have the right, at a Town Meeting, by what was incorporated in the state law, to say whether they want to allow the sale or not. It shouldn’t be left to the Planning Board; it should be up to the citizens of Topsham.”

Selectmen ultimately decided to send the matter to referendum.

Russell said a referendum “sort of circumvents the Town Meeting form of government, where people have a chance to have (a) say one way or the other,” but added that “there’s no doubt that a referendum will get a broader segment of the town voting.”

The board voted last December to take no action on a fireworks ordinance until it could develop language for Town Meeting. Until then, fireworks are legal under a new state law that took effect Jan. 1.

Results were mixed in an online town survey posted late last year that asked for input from residents about local fireworks regulations. Respondents voted 105-104 that Topsham should not ban the sale and 95-91 that the town should ban the use.

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.