OTHER VOICES

Fireworks on the Fourth

Posted June 25, 2012, at 3:50 p.m.

The Fourth of July is still more than a week away, but fireworks and noise complaints have already arrived.

At Thursday’s meeting of selectmen in Norway, the board heard an impassioned complaint from Pikes Hill Road resident Trina Cray about the now-legal fireworks going off “day and night” in her neighborhood.

For those who aren’t familiar with Norway, Pikes Hill Road is not some distant outskirt. It’s in the downtown, a residential street of stately homes overlooking the business district.

It is what one could call a “quiet” street — except for the fireworks.

According to Cray, her mother is kept awake at night by fireworks, some of which have been thrown over her house.

Under Maine’s new law, personal fireworks can be used only on the user’s property, or with another property owner’s written permission, so we can understand why Cray and her mother are speaking up. It’s not only the noise; they fear the possibility of fire if rockets are blasting across the roof.

Norway Police Chief Rob Federico told selectmen he has received 12 fireworks complaints this year, up from three last year. That is a pretty steep uptick in the numbers, especially since fireworks have only been legal in Maine since New Year’s Day.

It seems likely that the complaints will continue apace, especially since there’s a fireworks store just down the street in Paris, so shopping is easy.

Knowing that’s the case, Norway selectmen are asking locals to report their concerns so the board can document problems. The board has not indicated whether it would move to enact a municipal fireworks ordinance if complaints reach some threshold, but having the data in hand will give them what they need to make that decision.

More than 40 towns in Maine have enacted ordinances restricting or outright banning the use and sale of fireworks, including Bangor, Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Freeport and Orono.

Some towns, including Rockland, have banned the use of fireworks unless a municipal permit is obtained. It’s a concession to residents’ desire to sell or use fireworks and municipal officials’ desire to control frequency of the noise.

In Ellsworth, permits are required to sell fireworks, and use is permitted unless the fire danger is Class 4 or greater, which makes sense. We shouldn’t set off rockets during a dry stretch.

In Farmingdale, town officials have written an ordinance that places early trust in fireworks users. However, if officials receive three complaints on any user, that person will be banned from using fireworks.

That’s an ordinance written on faith that folks will behave and use fireworks responsibly.

We sincerely hope that faith is rewarded.

Rumford, which does allow personal fireworks in town, has made a specific request that people not bring fireworks to the coming Fourth of July celebration at Hosmer Field. The event is expected to draw 4,000 people, and town officials — correctly so — are concerned that people may be injured by personal fireworks lit off in close quarters, especially while folks may be distracted from professional pyrotechnics overhead.

The worry of injury is real and, since this is the first Fourth of July since 1949 that personal fireworks have been legal, that worry is weighing on the minds of public safety officials across the state.

The state fire marshal’s office has posted warnings on its website and issued safety tips to keep people safe. If you haven’t read the material, it’s worth the time to do so: http://tinyurl.com/2p6tdy.

That site also has a current list of municipal ordinances, detailing restrictions and bans, so if you’re not sure your town allows fireworks, it’s worth a read or a call to your local fire department. The criminal violations can be steep, and possible civil penalties even more so if someone is injured.

Celebrating the birth of our nation shouldn’t be painful.

In making her case for quiet in Norway, Cray compared the sound of fireworks to gunfire and made an unfortunate crack, saying: “If I wanted to hear the noise I’d go to downtown Lewiston and hear gunshots.”

While we appreciate that Cray values her peace and quiet, it is worth mentioning that there are probably more gunshots heard in the Norway area during deer hunting season than in all of downtown Lewiston in any given year. We understand she was making a point about ongoing and loud disturbances, but she did so at the expense of every resident of Lewiston. We think that’s unfair.

Lewiston did, after all, ban all fireworks within city limits to protect the city’s tranquility. Norway still has that opportunity, if residents so desire.

Sun Journal, Lewiston (June 24)

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