May 28, 2020
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Maine cities moving to restrict fireworks before law takes effect

Matt Wickenheiser | BDN
Matt Wickenheiser | BDN
Chris Shipley of Waterville, Maine, vacationing in New Hampshire, considers some of Phantom’s fireworks

AUGUSTA, Maine — A law that passed in June allowing the sale and use of fireworks in Maine contained a provision that allows cities and towns to restrict that law.

An increasing number of municipalities, particularly more densely populated ones, are considering taking advantage of that provision before Jan. 1, when the law goes into effect.

The city of Portland was among the first communities to consider restrictions and passed a citywide ban last month. In the last few weeks, the communities of Augusta, Bangor, Bath South Portland and Westbrook, among others, have initiated discussions about restrictions. Other communities, such as Rockland, are planning talks in the coming weeks.

Geoff Herman, director of state and federal relations for the Maine Municipal Association, said he didn’t have a list of towns that are considering restrictions but said the topic is beginning to heat up across the state.

“There does seem to be a direct correlation between population density and the propensity to propose bans,” he said. “I think that was probably predictable. But where it has gotten tricky is when towns seek to limit rather than ban outright. That requires a little more nuance.”

In Bangor, City Solicitor Norman Heitmann said the city is looking at a few options, including banning sales altogether or allowing sales but restricting them to certain zones.

Although the sale and use of fireworks can be limited by town, possession is permitted statewide under the law.

Rep. Doug Damon, R-Bangor, sponsored LD 83, the bill that put Maine on the list with dozens of other states, including New Hampshire, that allow the sale and use of fireworks to everyday consumers. He said he’s not surprised that communities are taking steps to restrict fireworks, but he doesn’t think it’s going to affect sales or use.

“I think for those towns that do allow them, all the better, because that’s where people will go,” he said “Already, we market communities so people will come there.”

For instance, if Bangor imposes a ban, people likely will just have to cross the Penobscot River. The city of Brewer is in the process of formally legalizing sale and use of fireworks by adopting a local ordinance that is consistent with state law.

Herman agreed but said towns can still pass their own ordinances even after the law takes effect.

“I think you’ll continue to see some municipalities put ordinances in place ahead of January 1, but I think there could be another round of adjustments after the law takes effect and people see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

Particularly if there is a high-profile injury associated with fireworks, Herman said other towns might reconsider local restrictions.

Officials in the city of Westbrook criticized state leaders last month for leaving the regulations on fireworks up to the municipalities. The law did not offer cities and towns any sort of template for implementing local restrictions.

Although the statewide law passed through the House and Senate in June, many senators and representatives opposed the bill amid safety concerns, although there were safety provisions included in the law.

“Fireworks can be very dangerous. However, if people are taught how to handle and use them properly, they can be safe and very recreational and enjoyed by families in Maine,” Gov. Paul LePage said in early July when he signed the bill.

During initial testimony of the bill in February, LePage did not allow anyone from the State Fire Marshal’s Office to testify because that office consistently opposed similar legislation in the past.

The Maine Fire Chiefs’ Association did support LD 83, but during many of the municipal discussions that have popped up so far it has been the local fire chiefs suggesting restrictions.

Local restrictions have the potential to affect more than just residents.

The state law specifies that fireworks in Maine can only be sold out of free-standing buildings, not in tents or trailers and not as part of a larger business such as a department or convenience store. Fireworks companies have been scouting possible storefronts in Maine but need to know soon which communities will welcome them.

Phantom Fireworks, a national chain with 54 locations, including one in New Hampshire, supported the legislation and the company’s director of showroom operations told the Bangor Daily News in July that the company was eying the Maine market.

The trend in other states has been that where one large national chain puts a fireworks store, others follow, similar to fast-food chains or home-improvement stores that often locate close together.

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