June 25, 2012

New fireworks store in Winslow touches off complaints, concerns

By Ben McCanna bmccanna@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WINSLOW -- It has been one month since a fireworks store opened on China Road.

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Since the state law allowing use and sale of commercial fireworks went into effect Jan. 1, several central Maine communities have enacted their own fireworks ordinances or fine-tuned what the state allows:

AUGUSTA: Ban on use and sale.

FAIRFIELD: Use is not allowed in public areas. Sale is allowed with permit.

FARMINGDALE: Use only between 5–10 p.m., except July 3–5, Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. May not be used at all when the fire danger class, as designated by the Maine Forest Service, is a class 4 or 5 fire danger day. Three complaints about any user will result in that user not being allowed to use fireworks in Farmingdale. 

GARDINER: Ban on use; sale is permitted (both are banned until July 11).

HALLOWELL: Use restricted to certain areas of the municipality. Contact city officials for more information.

SKOWHEGAN: Use is permitted; sale is banned.

UNITY: Use, sale and possession with intent to sell banned.

WATERVILLE: Use and sale banned.

WINSLOW: Town permit needed for sale. 

WINTHROP: Use OK 9 a.m.–9 p.m., extended to 12:30 a.m. Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and the weekends before and after those holidays. Sale banned.

(Some information came from maine.gov/dps/fmo/fireworks.)

Since then, Winslow police have responded to more than 40 fireworks-related complaints, and police in neighboring Waterville were so swamped with calls that the city council voted unanimously to ban fireworks within city limits.

Now, an advisory committee in Winslow is taking a close look at the issue, too. The four-person committee comprises the police chief, fire chief and two town councilors. Some within the group favor a ban on the use of fireworks, while one member is satisfied with the status quo. Together, they are seeking a compromise solution that they will present to the town council as early as July 9.

On Jan. 1, consumer fireworks became legal in Maine for the first time in more than 40 years. The law authorized the sale, possession and use of consumer fireworks, and adults were allowed to buy fireworks and use them year-round between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. The law also allows municipalities to draft their own ordinances to regulate sales and use of fireworks.

Beginning in March, fireworks stores began to pop up around the state.

There are eight fireworks stores in seven Maine towns -- Edgecomb, Ellsworth, Manchester, Monmouth, Scarborough, South Paris and Winslow. A ninth store will open later this summer in Presque Isle.

In nearly all cases, towns that host retail stores have had few problems, if any, according to town officials.

Winslow is the exception.

Something in the air

Jeff Fenlason is a member of Winslow's advisory committee. He's also the police chief.

Fenlason said the number of fireworks calls has taxed the 10-member police force in the town of almost 8,000.

"It's taking a lot of man-hours to answer these complaints," Fenlason said.

The calls have resulted in no summonses or arrests. For the most part, people are lighting their displays before the 10 p.m. curfew, Fenlason said. But, for some residents, the early evening explosions are too much.

"Some people work early, and go to bed early," he said. "It's disturbing, especially in neighborhoods where the homes are so close together."

Town Councilor Cathy Nadeau, an outspoken critic of fireworks, agrees with the chief. She said one neighborhood within her district feels particularly aggrieved.

"They feel like they're under siege," said Nadeau, who is on the fireworks advisory committee.

Residents of the neighborhood, whom Nadeau wouldn't name, have asked their fireworks-enthusiast neighbors to tone it down, but were told "'we can do what we want,'" Nadeau said.

"As of right now, they're absolutely right in saying that. They can do whatever they want, whenever they want, up until 10 o'clock," she said.

Two weeks ago, during the primary election, when Nadeau greeted voters at the Winslow polling station more than a dozen of the 679 people who voted pleaded with their councilor.

"A lot of people approached me to say, 'It has got to stop,'" she said.

Fire Chief David LaFountain has heard similar sentiments from residents. Although his department hasn't responded to any reports of fires or injuries, LaFountain has his own gripes with the newly legalized activity.

"My personal opinion is Winslow is no longer a quiet community. As I watch TV, I hear fireworks quite often," LaFountain said. "I have a granddaughter that tries to go to bed an a decent hour, and is kept awake by fireworks on both sides of her house until after midnight."

In other communities with fireworks stores, evenings appear to be much quieter.

Manchester has the longest history with a fireworks store, albeit a short one. In early March, Pyro City Maine opened its doors to a flood of customers seeking sound and fury. The response in Manchester -- a town of less than 3,000 residents with no police force -- has been muted, according to Town Manager Patrick Gilbert.

(Continued on page 2)

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