Photo By Steve Fuller

Fireworks restrictions likely on the horizon in Ellsworth

Photo By Steve Fuller
Julia Ventresco, who lives near Green Lake, was one of the Ellsworth residents who addressed the City Council Monday night about fireworks use in the city. Ventresco and others urged the council to put restrictions on when fireworks can be used, and councilors said they likely will.

ELLSWORTH — The City Council will likely move later this year to tighten regulations on the use of consumer fireworks within the city limits.

That was the takeaway from a workshop meeting held Monday night, where the council solicited input on what — if any — changes should be made to the city’s existing rules relating to the use of fireworks.

Essentially, those rules state that fireworks cannot be used inside a building or on days where the fire danger is high. The city makes no rules about hours of use, meaning state law applies — 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day, with extended hours around the Fourth of July and New Year’s holidays.

About 20 people attended the workshop. When asked if anyone was there in support of fireworks, nobody said yes.

Maine legalized the use of consumer fireworks in 2011 (the law went into effect in 2012) after a decades-long ban on their use. Residents at Monday’s meeting said they have seen a dramatic change since that time.

“The use of fireworks used to be for public celebrations,” said Audrey Tunney, a city resident and president of the Green Lake Association. “Now, private celebrations are going out to the public whether you want them or not.”

That lack of control was a central theme at the workshop. Residents told of calling the Police Department to complain, only to be told that if the fireworks were being used before 10 p.m., it was legal. Residents said the fireworks are sometimes a constant barrage of noise and light in their neighborhoods, night after night.

“There isn’t a respite at all,” said Bob Hessler, who lives on Laurel Street.

Councilors expressed empathy with the residents — “Your comments do not fall on deaf ears,” said Chairman John Phillips — but wrestled with what the best regulatory mechanisms might be.

Linda Maxwell, a Red Bridge Road resident who said her horses are often frightened by fireworks, asked if the city could regulate the size of pyrotechnic products that are used. City officials said that likely would prove difficult.

The idea of requiring all fireworks users (not just those conducting large, commercial displays) to secure a permit from the Fire Department generated questions and discussions.

The system is reportedly employed elsewhere in Maine, and Councilor Pam Perkins said the idea appealed to her. She wondered how much of a burden such a system would place on the Fire Department, and Fire Chief Richard Tupper said it seemed a “difficult way to do it,” in his opinion.

Tupper said Fire Department personnel likely would need to visit any and every site where fireworks might be launched in order to evaluate its safety. Councilor Steve Beathem questioned if the city would be liable if a permitted fireworks use got out of hand or caused injury or property damage.

Councilor Marc Blanchette said he thought fireworks users who didn’t want to be bothered with a permit requirement would simply ignore it.

“People just won’t do it,” he said.

While some in the audience expressed support for an outright ban, officials questioned if that would work either.

“I don’t think banning them is going to make them go away,” Phillips said.

Lt. Harold Page, acting police chief of the Ellsworth Police Department, said it is difficult to find people who may be violating existing fireworks laws (mostly using them after 10 p.m.).

That, he said, is because complainants who call in can hear the fireworks going off but can’t necessarily see where they are being launched from, leaving responding officers with little to work with.

The possibility of placing geographic restrictions on the use of fireworks also was discussed. Residents living in the more densely populated urban core of the city were among the more vocal audience members at Monday night’s workshop, as they were at a previous council meeting in July.

Fortier said the council should focus on doing “something for the peace and security of our in-city residents” for starters. Perkins said she had a similar thought at first, but had changed her mind.

Only changing the rules in the urban core “doesn’t get at the concerns of the larger community,” she said, drawing agreement from Julia Ventresco, who lives near Green Lake.

“It needs to happen in the whole of Ellsworth and not just the urban area,” Ventresco said.

Councilors expressed mild frustration at having to deal with the fireworks issue at all, given that it was legislation out of Augusta that authorized the use of the pyrotechnic devices.

“We’re dealing here with something not of our own creation,” said Councilor Bob Crosthwaite.

Mention was made of LD 168, a bill that would have pushed the daily start time for fireworks to noon and allowed someone to be charged with disorderly conduct “if the person uses consumer fireworks in a manner that causes loud and unreasonable noises.”

Passed by the Maine House in February of this year, it was vetoed by Governor Paul LePage in March. The State Senate then sustained LePage’s veto.

Crosthwaite encouraged residents with concerns about fireworks use to talk to candidates for statewide office.

In a memo to councilors, Beal said city staff had checked with state officials on complaints raised at the July council meeting, including environmental pollution from fireworks, their effect on animals and on veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and fire danger.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection said negative environmental effects are “nonexistent with consumer fireworks,” and said assumptions to the contrary by some citizens are derived from studies of commercial fireworks.

An unidentified game warden told Beal that fireworks are “not detrimental to wildlife” because they have to deal with things such as thunder and snowstorms. As far as fire danger, Beal said the city has had only two incidents, both in 2012 soon after fireworks were legalized.

On the subject of PTSD, Beal said Peter Ogden of the Bureau of Maine Veterans Services testified at a hearing on LD 168 that while some combat veterans may be affected by fireworks, “it is not true for the vast majority of us.”

Beal said she will work with city staff to draft possible amendments to the city’s fireworks ordinance. Those likely will be brought before the council at its regular monthly meeting in November, and a public hearing on the subject will be part of the agenda.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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