Expired marine distress devices, like these handheld red flares, can deteriorate and threaten environmental damage or increase fire risks. PHOTO BY STEPHEN RAPPAPORT

Bill would regulate flare disposal



AUGUSTA — A bill in the hands of the Maine Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee would dictate where commercial and recreational boaters should dispose of their expired marine flares.

Currently, there is no easily accessible program for flare disposal, and the explosive devices can pile up in boats, garages or even in the ocean.

Commercial and recreational boaters are required to carry visual distress signaling equipment, including flares, aboard their vessels. The flares generally expire after three years.

LD 252, sponsored by Rep. Jay McCreight (D-Harpswell) and co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor), Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) and other representatives from both parties, would allow boaters to dispose of their expired flares at fire stations around the state. The disposal program would be ongoing throughout the year.

The bill also provides that marine distress flares would be collected during boating events throughout the year.

Barns, cellars, boat sheds and garages around the state have become storage places for countless expired marine distress signals that no longer meet Coast Guard requirements but still look, and probably work, like new.
PHOTO BY STEPHEN RAPPAPORT

Once collected, flares would be incinerated by the fire departments. Recyclable material from the devices must be recycled in cooperation with Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulations.

Charlie Phippen, Bar Harbor harbormaster and president of the Maine Harbormasters Association, penned a letter to the committee in support of the bill on behalf of the group.

“The federal and state mandates that require the carriage of [marine flares] is a costly and recurring expense that boaters, both recreational and commercial must bear as often as every three years,” Phippen wrote. “The fact that flares have this short shelf life results in untold thousands of expired marine flares that end up accumulating on board these vessels.”

He indicated that there is no approved state or federal method of disposal.

“The Maine Harbormasters Association believes that the adoption of LD 252 will address this dilemma which the Maine boating public faces when disposal of marine flares becomes necessary ….This legislation will facilitate a safe statewide method of disposing of expired marine flares.”

LD 252 also features an educational component that includes a multi-agency campaign initiated by the Department of Public Safety to inform the public of the new marine flare disposal program and the dangers of unsafe disposal.

The bill states that the websites of the DEP, Department of Marine Resources, Department of Agriculture, Conservation of Forestry and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will provide information and resources about the disposal program.

Smoke without fire?

By Stephen Rappaport

AUGUSTA — It may seem unlikely that the state fire marshal would oppose a bill setting up a system for safely disposing of out-of-date marine safety flares, but that’s just what happened when the Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety held its public hearing on LD 252.

State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas told Committee Chairwoman Sen. Kimberley Rosen (R-Hancock County) and her colleagues that the bill was unnecessary, and unnecessarily complicated.

“The Office of State Fire Marshal has been involved in the disposal of marine flares as well as other explosive materials since 2004,” he said.

Currently, if asked, an investigator from the office will arrange to pick up “outdated or unwanted devices” which are then stored in the Fire Marshal’s Office’s explosives magazine in West Gardiner. Eventually, when enough materials have been collected, they are destroyed by burning in the office’s explosives incinerator.

That system works well, Thomas said, and there was no reason to involve another state agency in the process.

“Our opposition to this legislation lies with the total shift of the identified responsibilities falling upon the Fire Marshal’s Office” to the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, who would be tasked with establishing “facilities for collection and safe retention” of the flares and such and creating an educational campaign and public website.

“With this legislation we see the FMO being called upon to develop and carry out an entire program for the benefit of the commercial and recreational boating groups,” Thomas said. “We are more than willing to continue to carry out the disposal as we have in the past but we cannot take on the responsibility of an entire program.”

Thomas also suggested that agencies such as the Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Marine Patrol and the Maine Warden Service would have “better access to the marine and boating industry” but, based on past experience, none of those organizations seems to have much advice for Maine mariners on how to dispose of expired marine flares.

Perhaps a call to the Fire Marshal’s Office at 626-3870 is the answer.