GUILFORD, Maine — Around 60 communities in Maine have enacted regulations on the use of fireworks, and about half of those ban consumer pyrotechnics altogether.
But some residents of Guilford clearly want something done in their town and 35 of them showed up at a public hearing hosted by the planning board on Nov. 20.
Chairman Matt Holland said that the panel was looking for guidance in advance of next year’s annual town meeting where any new ordinances would have to be approved by voters. “We’re not going to give you any opinions from our point of view because we’re here to represent you,” Holland said. “What we think personally is not a factor.”
Dennis Argondizza said that while some people obviously enjoy fireworks, “three, four or five times a week is a bit much. It’s upsetting to pets and to the elderly, it wakes up young children and it is very possible that it affects combat veterans.”
Fireworks, he added, were also a fire hazard and health hazard. “Fireworks produce smoke that includes heavy metals, sulphur and other noxious chemicals,” Argondizza said.
Wayne Bennett, a Vietnam veteran, agreed with some of Argondizza’s assessment. He gave the planning board members of a copy of a Bangor Daily News article about 119 fires from 2010-12 caused by fireworks. “I’ve been home [from Vietnam] for 42 years. I shouldn’t have to live in my own house in Guilford and feel like I’m in a combat zone,” he said.
Much of the criticism of fireworks in town was directed to a resident nicknamed Pyro Joe. However, few, if any people knew his real name and some conceded that even his questionable use of fireworks may be legal under state law.
Wendy Bradford said that she has called the sheriff’s department about excessive noise allegedly caused by Pyro Joe “and they said nothing could be done because it wasn’t against the law.” But Bradford said that she has heard noises so loud “that our windows rattled and we found debris on our lawn … This totally annoys me.”
Paul Zimmerman suggested that the planning board consider an ordinance to ban shooting off fireworks within the same distance that prohibits the discharge of a firearm: 300 feet from a residence. “That would pretty much shut down the whole intown area,” Zimmerman said, “but not out of town.”
Christina Davidson, who said she has used fireworks during the summer, questioned why “everyone should be prohibited from using them because some are irresponsible.” She suggested a regulation that would prohibit fireworks use if it was too dry to get a fire permit, and she’d be “furious if someone was shooting them off at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
Scott Ward acknowledged that he’s a fireworks fan and uses them frequently but legally. “The [state] law states that you can shoot them off from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The ones who are shooting them off after 10 p.m. should get fined,” he said. He claimed that the town’s fire warden approached him one time about excessive noise at 5:30 p.m. “I live right next to the mill and there’s a guy who revs up his Harley [in the neighborhood] all the time,” Ward said.
Town Manager Tom Goulette said that townspeople aren’t limited to a “yes” or “no” vote on fireworks, and there can be “as many articles as the selectmen allow you to put on the warrant as long as they’re not frivolous.” But he emphasized that the language has to meet legal guidelines, and the articles cannot be amended at the town meeting. “If they’re all voted down, then state law applies,” he said.
Goulette suggested that the planning board take all the input from the meeting, come up with a draft ordinance and present it at another public hearing in February.
A straw poll of the attendees was almost evenly divided between those who wanted to ban fireworks intown and those who would allow them with restrictions.
Holland said that anyone who has opinions or concerns about regulating fireworks in the community can contact him days at 564-3369 or evenings at 564-7036.