Fireworks hot topic; committee planned

 

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Faced with conflicting fireworks proposals and no clear public consensus, the Bridgton Board of Selectmen agreed Tuesday to create a committee to craft an ordinance over the winter and present it to voters next June.

Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz will create a charge for the committee and report back to the board at their Aug. 28 meeting.

Meanwhile, Police Chief Kevin Schofield agreed, at the request of Selectman Doug Taft, to seek advice from the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office as to whether fireworks complaints could be dealt with under the town’s Disorderly Housing Ordinance.

Taft seemed to think it would fit, since repeated loud noise problems are addressed under the Disorderly Housing ordinance, but Schofield wasn’t so sure. Under the new state law that went into effect Jan. 1, it is legal to buy and use consumer fireworks up to 10 p.m. on private property. That has been the message police have given to those who call complaining — as long as it is not happening after 10 p.m., there is nothing police can do.

But Taft said that rental properties might be a different story, since the state law also requires that people shooting off fireworks have the permission of the property owner.

Several residents who spoke Tuesday, however, did not see what all the fuss over fireworks was about.

“We just have to get used to it,” said Greg Watkins, pointing out that the law is still new and “the novelty (of buying and using fireworks) is going to pass.”

Watkins said if Bridgton bans fireworks, it would send the wrong message to businesses that may want to locate in town. Resident Vanessa Jones said it also would be the wrong message to send to younger people.

“When you ban fun, the word gets around, and the 20–to-40-year-olds don’t come to Bridgton,” she said, prompting brief applause.

Selectman Bob McHatton suggested a moratorium on fireworks be imposed until an ordinance could be written, but there was little support for his idea.

Berkowitz said the different suggestions made for controlling fireworks reflect “some interesting dynamics that all are bringing to the table.” Fire Chief Glen Garland has ideas about the storage and sale of fireworks, while Greg Jones proposed an ordinance last year that would give the town authority to license fireworks dealers who wanted to locate in town. Noble House owner Julie Whelchel suggested Bridgton take the same action as was taken by neighboring Harrison and other Maine towns, by simply re-adopting the language taken out of the state law in January, thereby reinstating the ban on the sale, use and possession of consumer fireworks.

Saying she was speaking on behalf of other downtown area residents, Whelchel wrote in an e-mail, “We believe that adopting an ordinance that reverts to prior Maine law language is the most clear approach to dealing with this public nuisance. We see no need to re-invent the wheel.”

Resident Peter Bowen, who said he has been bothered by fireworks, said, “I don’t understand when someone says that we should just get used to it. To me, this is a disturbance of the peace.” He said he hoped that all sides would get together and discuss a compromise, because “reasonable persons can come up with reasonable conclusions.”

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