Friday, May 24, 2013
On Saturday evenings in summer, over a rise about a half-mile from the house, rockets have been known to whistle skyward and boom kaleidoscope colors for 20 minutes or so. The kids dance in backyard firelight, while the encircled adults relax and watch the show.
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I have no clue who the ringmaster of this sky circus is, nor do I care to know. It's an enjoyable quirk of my neighborhood, and a neighbor, that my family enjoys and has proved harmless so far.
The only time an ambulance screamed down my street in memory was for me, but that's another story.
Fireworks are now legal in Maine. This has sparked reports -- sorry -- of towns and cities across the state pondering whether they should prohibit them from their borders. In defense of fireworks, I think local officials should exercise patience before hurrying through a ban or more regulation.
Anyone watching the excellent documentary "Prohibition" this week on MPBN has learned the pitfalls of banning products people want.
Fireworks have found their way into Maine for decades, as did alcohol, with rumrunners finding safety along the state's craggy coastline in the 1920s.
The last thing Maine needs is a patchwork quilt of firework regulations. Will each community become responsible for policing the firework activity within its borders, by enforcing a municipal ordinance that contradicts a state law? I hope there's more important work to be done.
What strikes me as the right match -- sorry again -- for towns and cities is to stiffly regulate this market created by the state. Much like other things once prohibited, say alcohol, some smart framework of oversight of the product and the vendors seems in order.
Here are some reasons why.
Around the Fourth of July holiday this year, I was visiting family in Rhode Island, another state that's allowed fireworks just recently. Their presence was more noticeable than bottle rockets zooming in a church service.
Grocery stores had pyramid-shaped fireworks displays in their aisles, vacant storefronts became fly-by-night firework bodegas and parking lots were converted in firework swap meets. It looked like a fireworks free-for-all. I'm assuming this is not what the R.I. General Assembly intended.
(If the Assembly even knew what it enacted, that is. The executive director of the American Pyrotechnic Association called Rhode Island's fireworks law the most "poorly written" she'd ever seen, according to the Providence Journal.)
Maine's law is better, with explicit licensing and permitting provisions for fireworks vendors, but attention still must be paid to the actual commerce. Hold the fireworks vendors accountable to the regulations, don't just allow a permit and let anything else go.
I realize, for cash-strapped towns and cities, this is a more labor-intensive prospect than just eliminating the prospect of fireworks vendors. That's why the next example is important.
Steve Marson, of Central Maine Pyrotechnics, went before Farmingdale planners recently to present plans for a consumer fireworks store. While acknowledging the new Maine law will cause headaches for towns and cities, he said there are places that want his business and will help it grow. He plans six stores in Maine, including one in Farmingdale.
Marson has a point: This business, although a challenge to local authorities, does have a place in Maine, as long as there are towns and cities willing to support it.
There is potential for responsible growth, under businessmen such as Marson, that an outright ban will quash before it starts.
(By the time this column appears, Marson will have made a booming sales pitch to towns and cities with a parking lot display at the Augusta Civic Center, as part of the Maine Municipal Association's annual convention.)
Of course, the lasting question is whether consumers, with the chance to purchase fireworks legally, will use them in a responsible manner. They are dangerous and can cause injuries, more than 10,000 every year according to the Centers for Disease Control, with 60 percent occurring in June and July.
I don't know the answer. The human element is the ultimate variable, but if the summer evening shows in my neighborhood are any indication, many people already use fireworks responsibly.