Fireworks in Belfast? Council may need more research

Posted Nov. 01, 2011, at 10:09 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — The City Council is mulling whether to join the ranks of Maine municipalities that have decided to restrict the state’s new law that permits the sale and use of fireworks.

Although Councilor Eric Sanders made a motion during Tuesday night’s regular meeting to ban the use and sale of fireworks in the city outright, the decision quickly was tabled by other councilors.

“We need to resolve this as soon as possible,” Sanders urged. “I’m against it. I don’t think we’re a society anymore that can be trusted with fireworks.”

But Councilor Roger Lee demurred.

“I don’t want to vote, because I don’t have the data,” he said.

City Planner Wayne Marshall had requested direction from the council on the matter, giving them several potential courses of action. Those included allowing the sale and use of fireworks in the city, allowing the use of fireworks but not the sale, regulating where they could be sold or used, or prohibiting them entirely.

Belfast Fire Chief Jim Richards would like the city to prohibit fireworks entirely, citing safety concerns, Marshall said.

Although Councilor Marina Delune said the fire chief’s opinion was good enough for her, other councilors, including Lee, wanted data on increased fires or personal injuries that resulted from the use of fireworks.

“What is the likely harm?” Lee asked.

Councilor Mike Hurley said that since the Maine State Legislature has passed the law, Belfast residents will be seeing them “all over the place” after the measure goes into effect on Jan.1.

“I don’t have any problems with selling them,” Hurley said. “But you can’t have people firing off the Artillery 12-Pack on Cedar Street. It’s got to be defined.”

He also said that if a person stopped to think about it, there are plenty of activities happening around the city that are “really dangerous,” including the sale of firearms and the gatherings of large numbers of people in venues such as the movie theater, which Hurley co-owns.

“I’ve been in states where there have been fireworks, and I’ve never noticed a problem,” he said. “I do think it’s ridiculous that the governor and the Legislature felt the need to put this at the head of the agenda.”

The councilors plan to revisit the issue at the next regular meeting in two weeks.

Robert and Heidi Gordon, a Belfast couple that would like to open a store to sell fireworks on the city’s east side, said they were surprised at the council’s hesitation about allowing the use and sale in the city.

“Some people have already put their orders in for things they want me to carry,” Robert Gordon said. “There’s a lot of excitement around here about this.”

He said that it’s a matter of common sense not to have fireworks used downtown.

“You don’t want to go down Cedar Street and set those babies off,” he said, making the second reference of the night to a densely populated downtown neighborhood.

According to the Gordons, they’ve been working on the plan to sell fireworks for a year, beginning when they heard rumors that the law might change.

“We don’t have any money invested, but we do have a lot of time,” Robert Gordon said.

They believe that if Belfast decides not to allow the sale of fireworks, shoppers will just go elsewhere — such as Brewer, for example, a city that is in the process of adopting a local ordinance that formally legalizes their sale and use.

“I want a beautiful, family-run business,” Robert Gordon said. “I think fireworks have a bad rap.”

His wife agreed.

“To me, it would be better if you regulate it,” she said.

Searsport may be joining Brewer in allowing the sale of fireworks, Marshall said.

Among the municipalities that are working to restrict the law are Bangor, Portland, Rockland, Augusta, Bath, South Portland, Westbrook and Houlton.

In other business, the councilors discussed whether to install heat in the public restrooms on lower Main Street so they could remain open year-round.

Sanders was among the councilors who sounded generally in favor of the move.

“If we expect people to come here year-round, we should have a public restroom available year-round,” he said.

Many cited the restroom’s crucial proximity to the Harbor Walk project, a pedestrian walkway that will stretch from the footbridge to the Belfast Boathouse.

“You cannot give people an attractive nuisance like a walkway and not give them a place to go to the bathroom,” Hurley said. “It’s just that simple.”

The council took no action on the matter Tuesday night.

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