Bridgton vacillates on fireworks ordinance

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

A proposed fireworks ordinance, that would set extra limits beyond what the state allows, hit a snag March 26 when Selectman Bob McHatton suggested a competing ordinance.

He wants to ban fireworks altogether.

Members of the Fireworks Committee and several selectmen were incensed, viewing McHatton’s actions as an 11th-hour attempt to scuttle their efforts. Everyone agreed, however, that some kind of compromise is needed, because two competing ordinances on the same subject cannot be presented to voters at the June Town Meeting.

McHatton said he’s talked to many residents who favor a complete ban, after experiencing last summer’s increase in fireworks in the wake of a new state law making it legal for residents to purchase and set off fireworks year-round, up to 10 p.m. most nights. So he proposed an outright ban on fireworks, except for commercial displays.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said the effect of two competing ordinances on the warrant would be that they would void each other out, and the state law legalizing fireworks, passed in January of 2012, would apply.

“You’re not the only community vacillating on this issue,” said Berkowitz. This week the Legislature tabled actions on four fireworks bills, each with varying degrees of restriction.

Members of the Fireworks Committee in Bridgton said they held several hearings with the public to get feedback as they drafted their proposed ordinance. If there are a great number of residents upset about fireworks, as McHatton suggests, they didn’t approach the committee, said member Glen “Bear” Zaidman.

“You can’t drag ‘em into the room,” Zaidman said. “What’s the point of having a committee,” he asked, when one selectman can suggest a ban and sweep all their work away?

Fire Chief Glen Garland said the committee “tried to do its due diligence” by asking for suggestions, but got very little response. The resulting ordinance suggested some relatively minor new restrictions, particularly with regard to dates and times when fireworks can be discharged.

“We are a vacation town,” Garland said. “This was our best stab at it, based on the very little input we had.”

Selectman Woody Woodward suggested that some residents might have felt afraid to speak up. He said that he, too, has heard complaints about fireworks being discharged in the downtown in places where houses are close to one another.

McHatton, who has been a staunch supporter of raising money for Bridgton’s July 3 fireworks display, said, “I’m still flying the flag.” But he added that, “I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are concerned about people getting hurt and fires.”

In legislative hearings last week, testimony was reportedly offered by the State Fire Marshal's Office showing that consumer fireworks were a factor in 20 structure fires last year, along with 38 wild fires and 20 injuries treated at Maine hospitals.

Berkowitz said the board has until early April to decide the language of an ordinance to be placed on the warrant.

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