Topsham selectmen toss fireworks decision to Town Meeting

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TOPSHAM — It will be up to the annual Town Meeting next year to decide if Topsham should enact local restrictions on the sale and use of consumer fireworks.

Until then, fireworks will be legal under a new state law that takes effect Jan. 1.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Dec. 15 not to take action on a fireworks ordinance until it can develop language for the May 2012 Town Meeting. That language could allow the use and sale of fireworks in town, with conditions to be discussed in the months to come.

The board discussed an online town survey that sought input from residents about local fireworks regulations. The poll asked residents whether Topsham should ban or regulate the sale or use of fireworks, or rely on the state law, which also allows municipalities to enact local restrictions.

Respondents voted 105-104 that Topsham should not ban the sale, and 95-91 that it should ban the use.

Bill Fitzsimmons of Elm Street said Monday that he had collected signatures from about 130 people against the sale and use of fireworks in Topsham.

“My major concern right now is the interim period between January and May Town Meeting,” he said.

Fitzsimmons called fireworks a bad idea on several levels, including personal and public safety, enforcement and quality of life.

“I live in a residential community” and in an historic district, he said. “I can’t put a skylight in my roof, but now I can set off fireworks outside my house 365 days a year? I don’t think that’s right.”

Fitzsimmons asked for some way to delay the law from going into effect in Topsham, such as a moratorium, until the issue can be discussed at Town Meeting.

Options before the Board of Selectmen included doing nothing and allowing the state law to take effect, or calling a special Town Meeting for Dec. 28 where residents could vote on a six-month moratorium on either the sale of fireworks or both the sale and use.

“I don’t feel that there’s any burning (feeling) one side or the other, that we need to rush to have a Town Meeting,” Selectman David Douglass said.

Chairman Don Russell pointed out that “we’ve gone out of our way to have a poll put up that shows there’s a … sort of an even split of people that want (fireworks) and people that don’t want them. My concern is that we’re making a decision here based on the comments of a few people in this room and ourselves, rather than following through with a Town Meeting and giving them the choice of the warrant, that they could either vote down or vote up.”

Selectman Andrew Mason said “I don’t think it’s realistic that a true representative meeting is going to occur on Dec. 28,” three days after Christmas.

Russell noted that if the town does nothing, and the law goes into effect, someone could build an outlet to sell fireworks in town “(and) we wouldn’t have anything in here to regulate it other than retail sales.”

John Shattuck, Topsham’s director of economic and community development, said the state’s siting requirements for fireworks retailers requires a 60-foot setback from the closest building, and mandates that the retail facility must be a standalone building constructed to federal fire codes, and that it be located at least 300 feet from any fuel depot or dispensary.

“It certainly makes it exceedingly unlikely that it could be sited anywhere in the lower village or the Main Street area,” Shattuck said.

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.