Orono residents push to put fireworks ban before voters

Posted Dec. 26, 2011, at 7:34 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Three residents are leading an effort to have voters decide whether a recent Town Council decision to ban the use and sale of fireworks should be upheld.

Daniel LaPointe, George Bagley and Paul Melanson sent out 250 petitions Monday in an effort to gather 785 signatures that would allow voters to decide at the ballot boxes whether Orono should prohibit fireworks, Bagley said.

On Dec. 12, the council passed an amendment under the label “Fire Prevention and Protection,” which states, “No person shall use, sell, possess with intent to sell or offer for sale consumer fireworks … within the boundaries of the Town of Orono, including the University of Maine.”

That does not apply to people issued a fireworks display permit by the town or state.

The ordinance establishes fines ranging between $50 and $200, with penalties increasing to between $100 and $400 for repeat offenses. The fine for selling or possessing with intent to sell fireworks is at least $200, or $500 for repeat offenses.

It gives the town authority to seize consumer fireworks that it determines will be used or are intended for sale.

The next day, LaPointe, Bangley and Melanson began gathering signatures. As of Friday, they had collected a little more than 150 of the 785 required to force a vote on the ordinance, LaPointe said.

LaPointe, Bagley and Melanson call the ordinance an unnecessary restriction and argue the town should have been content with following the state law that legalized fireworks in Maine.

“We feel that they silenced our Fourth of Julys and our New Year’s events and those things that mean a lot to us as Americans,” LaPointe said. “We really want to open up the ballot box for people to make their own decision.”

Bagley said two people will be out and about in Orono on Tuesday gathering signatures while petitions are distributed to homes in town.

He asked that anyone who signs the petition make sure they return it to the town office. The deadline for returning petitions is Jan. 3, 2012, but Bagley asked that people drop them off as soon as possible or by Friday at the latest because of the coming New Year’s holiday.

Council Chairman Geoffrey Gordon said the council passed the ordinance with the intent of “extending the status quo.”

He said the council worried about fire safety issues associated with the use of fireworks in “a densely packed neighborhood.”

The council considered allowing fireworks in some open areas, such as rural fields, but drafting an ordinance that allowed fireworks in some spots in town and not others would prove too complex and involved.

“In the time that we have available to us, it was impossible to craft an ordinance that would do justice to both sides of the issue,” Gordon said.

Instead, the council decided to draft an ordinance that would keep the rules the same as they were before Maine eliminated its fireworks ban.

Gordon said he was fine with the petition effort to give voters a chance to accept or overturn the council’s decision.

“That’s the way the system’s supposed to to work,” he said.

But he said he didn’t see much opposition to the ordinance at multiple public hearings the town has held over the issue in the past few months.

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