June 24, 2019
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Bangor moving quickly toward fireworks regulation

Matt Wickenheiser | BDN
Matt Wickenheiser | BDN
Some of the products on the shelves at Atomic Fireworks Inc. in Seabrook, N.H. July 7, 2011.

BANGOR, Maine — The City Council has lit what it hopes is a fast-burning fuse on fireworks regulations in an effort to enact ordinances, at least on sales, before November elections.

The council already has held a fireworks workshop and will take up the matter again at a workshop before the regular council meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 12.

“Most of the discussion the other day was about sales and some was about use,” said Norm Heitmann, city solicitor. “It seems there is certainly interest in doing something. They’re anxious to address this before the election.”

Maine’s state law legalizing the sale and use of fireworks, as defined by LD 83, takes effect on Jan. 1.

“If businesses are coming to the community, they need to know quickly. The sooner the better because they need to buy or lease property or building space,” Heitmann said.

The city of Brewer is already in the process of legalizing sale and use of fireworks with a first reading of its proposed ordinance, which is consistent with the new state law.

At last week’s workshop, seven of the nine councilors — Patricia Blanchette, Rick Bronson, Cary Weston, Charlie Longo, Nelson Durgin, Geoffrey Gratwick and Sue Hawes (David Nealley and Gerry Palmer were absent) — agreed with Heitmann and City Manager Cathy Conlow that the best course of action would be two-pronged. The first order of business would be to regulate the sale of fireworks and the second would be to regulate their use within city limits.

“What we’re looking at are three things,” Heitmann said. “First, the statute provides for fees if we have businesses which would come in the form of licenses to operate; second, the possible prohibition of sales altogether, so I’m working on an ordinance doing so like Portland has done; and third, if sales are allowed but restricted, we need to develop an ordinance allowing sales while also defining fireworks businesses so we can designate certain commercial zones for them.”

Because fireworks have been illegal in Maine since 1946, municipal laws don’t address fireworks businesses.

“And there was some concern from one councilor that it might not be appropriate to allow retail fireworks sales in all zones, such as those that are primarily residential neighborhoods,” said Heitmann.

In order to fast-track potential ordinances, they must be read publicly twice and the earliest that could occur would be at the Oct. 12 and 24 council meetings.

Also attending the workshop were state Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor; Bangor Fire Chief Jeff Cammack; Bangor police Lt. Mark Hathaway; and Patrick Carlon, director of development for Phantom Fireworks, a national chain with 54 stores.

“The point I wanted to make is the important thing is Brewer has this and other towns will have these stores, so Bangor should do it to prescribe the rules and conditions they want,” said Damon. “I mean, if not, you can own them in Bangor but you won’t be buying any of them in Bangor and Bangor will get none of the sales revenue.”

Carlon told councilors that his stores typically employ three full-time employees and a part-time work force that can expand to as many as 60 to 100 during the peak sales seasons, late spring to midsummer and late December.

“I started off with Phantom part-time as a college student,” Carlon said. “It was one of the best jobs I ever had and it eventually became my career.”

Not much was discussed regarding use restrictions, but one proposal called for a limited area of legal use — Zone 2 — which also allows discharge of firearms and encompasses a rural area that includes much of outer Broadway and roads such as Pushaw Road, Church Road and outer Essex Street.

“I feel comfortable about [fireworks] because I feel we can manage the sale of them effectively and regulate their usage, but I’m not in favor of the use of them in most areas of Bangor because of the closeness of the houses in certain neighborhoods,” Cammack said.

Any ordinances restricting fireworks sales or use must be done by Jan. 1.

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