Houlton to consider fireworks regulations

Posted Oct. 13, 2011, at 7:27 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Town officials on Tuesday evening decided that they will join a number of communities across the state that are looking to enact their own regulations regarding the local sale, possession and use of fireworks.

In a brief discussion during the hour-long meeting, councilors decided that the town should review its ordinances and consider amendments now that a new law making fireworks sales and use legal in Maine is set to take effect on Jan. 1. The state law allows cities and towns to enact their own laws regulating or banning them.

Town Manager Doug Hazlett said on Tuesday evening that the state has a very restrictive law on who can sell fireworks, with a great deal of oversight built into it.

“But these are not firecrackers, they are fireworks,” he told councilors. “They can do damage to people.”

Hazlett said that the Houlton Fair Committee, which organizes and hosts a large agriculture fair in Community Park every July, has opted to ban them from the fairgrounds. Councilors talked about taking steps to protect people and property.

Councilor Sue Tortello said she would like to see the town pose some restrictions on where people would be able to use fireworks in the community. She suggested that officials look particularly at governing their use in residential areas.

“I would like to see a distance restriction or something, such as you have to be so many feet from a property line or another building,” she said. “I think we have to look at the crowd issue, too. We don’t want people shooting them off with a lot of people around.”

Councilor Nancy Ketch agreed, saying that she would lean in the direction of protecting people.

Houlton Fire Chief Milton Cone said he was concerned because not all of the safety aspects around fireworks had been fully considered in June when the Legislature passed the law allowing them. He pointed out that when the grass and vegetation is particularly dry, the fire department does not allow open burning. He was concerned about the use of fireworks in similar conditions.

“Fireworks are dangerous, and they do need to be regulated,” said the chief.

Councilor Mike Jenkins said he was not too concerned about someone opening a fireworks store in the community, as he did not feel it would be economically feasible.

“I am more concerned with residential places here,” he said. “If you fire off a bottle rocket and it goes over your neighbor’s home and catches their roof on fire, who is responsible?”

Jenkins also mentioned noise concerns and how the commotion would affect others.

Walter Goodrich, the council chairman, said he did not believe that banning the sale of them in Houlton made sense. He did suggest the town consider an ordinance around them.

“We could possibly have an ordinance to say that you have to be certain distances from a property line, and you may need to think about having permits,” he said. “Because at certain times of the year, it would be difficult to have them anywhere because of how dry it is. Perhaps the planning board will look at it and see how far you have to be from a home to use them.”

Councilor John White said he was in favor of regulations, but not an all out ban.

Other communities in Maine, including Bangor, Brewer and Portland, also are looking at regulating or banning fireworks.

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