2017-03-24 / Front Page

Fireworks: What are they worth?

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — An ordinance limiting the use of consumer fireworks in Kennebunk is on its way to voters, but if residents who spoke at a March 20 public hearing are representative of the electorate, it doesn’t go far enough.

Selectmen voted unanimously to put the new ordinance before voters on the annual town meeting warrant June 13.

As originally written, the ordinance would limit the use of fireworks to two days per year, July 4 and Dec. 31, from 9 a.m. until 12:30 a.m. the following day. Residents would be able to shoot off consumer fireworks on those two days only after obtaining a permit from the fire department “on the day proposed for discharge.”

However, following first reading of the proposal Feb. 28, at which Selectman Deborah Beal “vehemently” objected to the new limits, which, she said went “way over the deep end.”

The new addition approved March 20 allows residents to also take out two additional permits per year, “based on good cause shown” to “commemorate special occasions.”

There will be no charge for the permits.

“I think it’s important to note this is the first step,” board chairman Dick Morin said. “This appears to meet the criteria the board had been looking for, but it’s certainly subject to change and can be adapted as we go forward if we find that it’s inadequate, or maybe even too far reaching.”

Several residents got up to speak after that, suggesting changes Morin and his peers might write into the proposal.

“I can live with a once-a-year public fireworks display done by professionals, but I’ve always believed that allowing individuals to set them off is unsafe, reckless and clearly flies in the face of any disturbing the peace laws,” said Susan Bloomfield, of West Kennebunk, who favored a full ban of the material legalized for public use in 2012.

“I am tired of being disturbed in my own home by someone else’s behavior,” she said. “We feel like hostages just waiting for people to decide they’ve had enough. If issuing permits is ever too much for the fire department, then we should consider an outright ban. It has always amazed me that Kennebunkport, Sanford, Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Ogunquit, York and Wells, all have fireworks bans [and Kennebunk does not]. I think we should join them.”

“Every night is not a party for those of us who live here all year long,” agreed Sea Garden Circle resident Eileen Willard, who told a story of confronting a frequent fireworks user who lives about a half-mile from her home.

“He kept telling me everybody loves it and I said, no, they don’t all love it, they probably just don’t want to confront you,” she recalled. “He insisted that it was celebratory and a lot of fun and everybody loved it. I got absolutely nowhere with this man. And that’s when I realized that even if you try to educate people to how they may impact someone else’s peace and quiet, there are some folks who are just kind of inconsiderate and feel it’s their right to make as much noise and do any old thing they want.”

Horse owner Christine Frank asked that selectmen include a 300-foot setback from the property line of anyone owning livestock. She also asked that permits be issued two days in advance of planned fireworks use, to give those with skittish animals time to prepare.

However, Town Manager Mike Pardue said fire department officials can only issue permits on the day of the event, because permits will be denied if the state forestry service has listed the day in question as Class 4 or 5 on the danger scale for wildfires.

Two residents unable to attend the meeting due to the weather commented through Town Clerk Merton Brown, who read letters from them aloud at their request.

Sue Walker, who lives near Mother’s Beach, felt the special event allowance was too much of a good thing.

“Determined fireworks advocates will call anything and everything a special event unless you limit such events to twice a year, with permits,” she wrote.

Laurie Harter, also a Mother’s Beach area resident, backed a full ban.

“I cannot count the number of nights last summer I woke up to fireworks on the beach at 3 a.m. [going off] for hours, for no discernable reason,” she wrote. “My dog went berserk [each time] clawing at me and the furniture trying to escape. It was and is exhausting.”

Selectman Shiloh Schlute, who was one of the more vocal members of the board at the Feb. 28 meeting in support of curtailing fireworks use, said at the March 15 session that he was “overwhelmingly in support” of the special use addition.

“I’m completely in support of that,” he said. “I think that’s a good and a smart addition to this. It will make things more flexible and still allow people to do the things they want to do and yet not have it be on overwhelming nuisance on the town.”

The board also got a lengthy email, referenced at the March 20 meeting, from Winnow Hill Road resident Jennifer Lyons.

She “wholeheartedly opposed” the ordinance proposal. Allowing fireworks use only on two days, she said, “would encourage excessive fireworks use on those two holidays and thereby create an administrative burden in issuing the permits, and a public hazard on days in which our public safety personnel are already busy and should be able to focus on public safety and enforcing other existing laws.”

Lyons also said the special use permit, given for “good cause,” presented the fire chief with “an unworkable standard that will only lead to further legal problems,” should someone be denied.

Among her other suggestions, Lyons also proposed charging for the permits — “Folks who can afford to buy fireworks can easily absorb a $5 or $10 permit fee,” she said — and simply capping the number any one person could get in a single year.

“I think these are all great ideas, but I think they’re things that need to happen at the permitting process, for staff to work out,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said of Lyons’ letter.

“I couldn’t agree more,” board Chairman Richard Morin agreed.

“We have some administrative work to do behind the scenes, if this [ordinance] were to be approved,” Pardue said.

Meanhile, one person, Kortney Nedeau, spoke in defense of consumer fireworks, calling herself “a user and advocate.”

“I have definitely broken the internet a few times with people thinking I was bombing Fletcher Street,” she said of the displays she stages up to four times per year.

As a dog owner, she said she completely respects the concerns of those opposed to fireworks, and wished that “jerks” who do not follow rules already in place would do as she does, and give plenty of advance notice to neighbors before she sets off explosions.

However, Nedeau opposed any permit fee.

“I don’t feel like I should have to pay more when I’m already paying my taxes and following all the rules,” she said.

Nedeau also noted that all noise is subjective, and what annoys some may not bother others. Should the town issue permits for any noise that might cause the hairs on another person to stand on end, she asked.

“I’m not a motorcycle fan,” she said, “but I don’t think anybody has to pay a fee or get a permit when Bentley’s [Saloon] runs 500 motorcycles though town and disrupts me.”

In the end, selectmen chose not to amend the latest draft of the ordinance, sending it to voters as is. If it needs further work, voters will make that clear, they said.

“June 13, pro or con, it’s the residents of the town who are going to make the decision,” Selectman Ed Karytko said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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