Ellsworth residents: Neighborhood ‘terrorized’ by backyard fireworks displays

Posted July 22, 2014, at 11:46 a.m.
Last modified July 22, 2014, at 4:54 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — A group of area residents who say they feel ‘terrorized’ by residential fireworks displays on Monday asked the City Council to help restore peace in their neighborhood.

After hearing their concerns, the council indicated that it would schedule a public workshop at which concerned residents can discuss the issue with Ellsworth officials. A date for the workshop has not yet been set.

Nine people who all live in the vicinity of Laurel Street on the city’s west side told councilors that fireworks displays in the neighborhood have agitated many residents. They said they have concerns about pollution, with fireworks being discharged into the nearby Union River, and about possible fire hazards.

One resident, Bob Hessler, said the displays have “terrorized” some pets in the neighborhood, and likely wildlife, too. He said the city’s ordinances, which follow state law in allowing fireworks to be set off between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., are not restrictive enough to prevent neighbors from antagonizing each other with the pyrotechnics.

“If you have a neighbor you don’t get along with very well, they can effectively make your life hell,” Hessler said.

Paula Marlo, who lives around the corner on Maple Street, told the council she has heart problems. It did not help her medical condition when a neighbor’s firework recently landed in her driveway, she said.

“This is dangerous,” Marlo said. “I feel like half the time this [stuff] is going off, I am in Syria.”

Chris and Anne Keefe said they tried approaching their neighbors who have been discharging the fireworks, who were not identified at the meeting, but were gruffly rebuffed.

“We’re not getting much sleep,” Anne Keefe said, adding she also has safety concerns. “I am sure my neighbor is not a trained pyrotechnician.”

Richard Tupper, the city’s fire chief, said that since fireworks became legal in the city, there have been two minor incidents in which children using them have caused brief small fires. Both incidents occurred in the summer of 2012, with the fireworks in one case causing a grass fire on Bayside Road and in the second setting an old tree stump on fire.

Councilor John Moore said he sympathizes with people in the Laurel Street area who feel that their lives have been disrupted with the displays. He said he has had similar experiences at his camp near Oak Point in Trenton.

“It feels like a war zone,” he said. “It is loud. You do not sleep.”

Michelle Beal, Ellsworth’s city manager, said Tuesday that she has heard some complaints, but not a lot, from people who live near Laurel Street and from another group of residents who live on East Main Street. She said that the use of fireworks in Ellsworth has seemed to decrease overall since fireworks became legal in Maine in 2012.

Beal said that the city had been waiting this past winter to see if the Legislature might revisit the law. After the legislative session ended without any changes, she said, the city council decided to take up the issue at one of its meetings.

When the Legislature approved the use of fireworks in Maine, it also gave municipalities the authority to allow or prohibit the use of fireworks within their boundaries. Several cities and towns pre-emptively banned the sale and use of fireworks before the the state law went into effect, and since then other municipalities have imposed tighter restrictions on their use.

According to Beal, Ellsworth could consider placing further restrictions on when or where fireworks can be discharged in the city. She said Ellsworth officials are concerned about people abusing the right to use fireworks and the impact fireworks may have on abutting property owners.

“That is something we worry about,” she said, referring to Marlo’s complaint about lit fireworks landing in her driveway. “That absolutely should not happen.”

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