Fireworks sparking widespread complaints
By Gail Geraghty
Downtown Bridgton residents are realizing too late that they should have pressed harder last year for a fireworks ordinance in town, knowing a state law was to make the sale and use of consumer fireworks legal as of Jan. 1, 2012. Since the 4th of July, some say the evening peace of their residential neighborhoods has been disrupted by loud reports from fireworks — and they want it to stop.
“On July 25 after 9 p.m., an explosion sent (two dogs) plus three of my kitties scrambling to hide under my bed and my computer desk. My Yorkie jumped on me and was shivering,” said Paulina Dellosso of Walker Street.
Highland Lake Resort owner Woody Woodward, a selectman, is also aware of loud consumer fireworks, often called “mushrooms,” going off near his North High Street property. “My guests are tired of being awakened at 10 or 11 p.m. by major explosions across the road or at the next door property,” said Woodward. “People have told me of sparks raining down on their trees and houses. I, personally, have been surprised by what is now legal for the general public to possess and use.”
It’s an unwelcome surprise for many, not only in Bridgton but also in other Lake Region towns. Harrison voters passed a fireworks ban at the June Town Meeting, but selectmen there, mindful of the Independence Day holiday and Old Home Days, delayed authorizing penalties for the sale or use of consumer fireworks until their July 19 meeting. They approved a fine of not less than $50 for the first offense, $100 for a second offense or $500 for any additional offenses, plus court costs.
Fryeburg Selectmen, meanwhile, on July 5, reinstated a Dec. 1, 2011 resolution banning the use of fireworks on any town property. The resolution states that selectmen want the ban to remain in effect “on an indefinite basis,” but recognizes that state law still applies in allowing their use on private property.
Harrison Town Manager George “Bud” Finch said the State Legislature last year “railroaded the law through without a lot of thought,” and now towns are left to pick up the pieces. Several retail fireworks stores in the area have opened since January and have been doing a brisk business. Finch said most people who’ve set off fireworks they never had access to before have used good common sense, and refrained from doing it late at night or in a close residential setting.
However, Finch added, “As the old saying goes, you can’t fix stupid.” Harrison sent the paperwork on penalties for illegal fireworks to the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department last week, Finch said. Even with a fireworks ban, Finch said, police are unlikely to enforce anything more than the most egregious violations. There have only been a few complaints so far in Harrison, mostly, said Finch, because word has gotten out to both year-round and summer residents that Harrison is one of the 50 or so Maine towns that has passed a ban.
“It gets into where do you put your policing priorities,” Finch said. “People have always violated the (fireworks) law, but there was some rationale about it. Our board said, let’s just adopt what the state law took out.”
The Maine Fireworks Law had existed since 1949, until it was amended in January to allow the use of fireworks between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. except on July 4, Dec. 31, and the weekends immediately before and after those dates, when fireworks may be used between 9 a.m. and 12:30 a.m.
Bridgton Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz is aware of complaints over fireworks in the downtown area, and has told residents they could come to the selectmen’s next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 14, to see if the board wanted to pursue a local fireworks ordinance. If the board declines, they could force the issue through a citizen’s petition, he said, but they would need to make sure the language of the petition was legally defensible.
“The reality is that a locally adopted ordinance is the only real was to guide this subject and gives law enforcement the necessary tools,” Berkowitz said.
When Dellosso called police July 25 to complain about the noise, she said Police Officer “Mac” McCormick told her ‘there is nothing that police can do’ as long as the fireworks end by 10 p.m. She said she and three other neighbors approached the residents that were setting off the fireworks and gave them copies of the Disorderly House Ordinance.
“I will not get into the nasty, cocky responses from the tenants/guests who hid from us,” she wrote in an e-mail sent to the selectmen, the police chief, fire chief and town manager.
Woodward agrees that a local ordinance banning fireworks is needed; in fact, he encouraged resident Greg Jones to bring a suggested draft ordinance to selectmen last year. Jones’ draft would have imposed bans on both times and certain locations in town, and he rewrote it several times to address the board’s suggestions.
“In the end, the Board of Selectmen majority voted to reject any part of his proposals,” Woodward said. “It was said that we’d see how things worked out and go from there. Well, we’ve seen how they’ve worked out.”
Jones said the board voted to have Fire Chief Glen Garland incorporate his ideas in a proposed Fire Suppression Ordinance instead. Jones said former Chairman Art Triglione directed Garland to work alone without public input, however, “And I was left out of the loop.”
“I, too, heard the fireworks going off a few nights ago and was frustrated with the whole situation,” Jones wrote in a reply to Dellosso’s e-mail. “I believe that this issue needs to be brought up again.”
On July 30, a Facebook page was announced that deals with fireworks complaints in Bridgton. The page is called “Keep Consumer Grade Fireworks Legal and Safe in Bridgton.” The page had received 12 “Likes” as of Tuesday.