Gardiner nixes referendum on fireworks proposal

Posted May 05, 2012, at 5:15 a.m.

GARDINER, Maine — Councilors have decided against holding a referendum vote on a proposal to ban the retail sale and use of fireworks within city limits.

Instead, councilors will hold a second and final reading of the ordinance — they’ve already approved the first vote — and officials say they’ll promote the meeting more aggressively to get public comments.

The decision came Wednesday night as councilors debated how to move forward on the proposed local rules. The proposed ordinance, which would make an exception for licensed professionals, is a response to new state law allowing the sale and use of consumer fireworks.

Councilors in December approved a first reading of the ordinance and a moratorium on fireworks sales and use is in effect until June 30.

The owner of a fireworks company that recently opened a retail store in Manchester has objected to the proposal. Steve Marson, owner of Central Maine Pyrotechnics, said people should have the right to use fireworks if they have plenty of room on their property and can do it safely.

“I’m in the business to sell the product,” said Marson, who did not attend Wednesday’s council meeting but spoke on Thursday.

Marson said safety is a top concern for his business, and “we’re doing everything we can with safe firing systems on their (customers’) property.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said Marson met last month with councilors and the fire and police chiefs to discuss his concerns. Morelli said the group concluded that the city should either hold another meeting that’s well publicized to ensure more residents attend, or send the issue to a referendum vote during the general election in November.

Councilors Ken Holmes and Patricia Hart wanted to push ahead with the second reading so the ordinance could be enacted, but they also wanted to meet with a larger group of residents to give them a chance to voice their concerns or show support for the ordinance.

Councilors said there was a small turnout at the council meeting in December.

“It was a cold, icy night, so maybe voices weren’t heard that would have been heard,” Hart said. “Let’s be a little more vocal and hear all sides of the issue.”

Morelli said he and his staff would publicize the second reading of the ordinance, though a date hadn’t been scheduled yet.

Not all councilors favored forgoing a referendum. Philip Hart, a councilor who is not related to Patricia Hart, was in favor of a referendum and against any kind of a public hearing.

“A couple of things happen at public hearings,” Philip Hart said. “Nobody shows up, but the other thing that happens is someone starts a campaign and gets one group in here, and then it’s not what everyone wants. It makes the water a little murkier.”

Councilor Thom Harnett said it is the council’s responsibility to decide the use and sale of fireworks in Gardiner, because it is a public safety issue.

Holmes said a larger group of residents are passionate about the use and sale of fireworks.

“They’re either for or against. There’s nobody in the middle, and those are the people we need to speak on this,” Holmes said.

Mayor Andrew MacLean said the ordinance would prohibit the retail sale of fireworks, but distribution of fireworks still would be allowed as long as it is in compliance with state and federal laws and city zoning ordinances.

Fireworks displays could continue as long as the company putting on the display has a permit from the state.

Violators of the ordinance would receive a citation with a civil penalty imposed. The penalties range from $110 to $850.

(c)2012 the Kennebec Journal (Augusta, Maine)

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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