June 17, 2010

Council not ready to reinstitute fireworks ban

A motion to accept the fireworks ordinance at Tuesday's meeting was tabled, as councilors looks for public input
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – It doesn't matter which way you head into Londonderry from here – north or west – in the time it takes to count to 20 you can be pulling into a fireworks retailer. What you do next depends on what the town Council decides about the town's antiquated fireworks ban.
As it stands, if you drive back home with your box of Heavy Hitter maximum charge 33-shot star-spangled explosives, you are breaking the law. Although there is no statewide restriction on the sale of fireworks, municipalities can enforce restrictions for sales, possession and use.
Last night Police Chief Ed Garone, Capt. Vern Thomas and Fire Chief George Klauber all spoke in favor of reinforcing the town's standing fireworks ordinance, which bans the sale, possession and display of fireworks in Derry.
On a technicality, the ordinance needs refreshing – the minutes from the council meeting where the ban was established, sometime in the 1980s, are missing from town records.
Whether prompted by the number of fireworks retailers popping up in Londonderry – the newest, Alamo, is just a cherry bomb's throw away from TNT, both just over the Derry town line on Route 102 – or just a matter of trying to reduce the number of nuisance calls to police is not clear.
But Tuesday night, safety officials came before the council asking them to vote in favor of maintaining the ban. Council put off the vote, unanimously tabling any action.
Councilor Kevin Coyle sought clarity.
“Chief, under the ordinance people can drive to Londonderry to buy fireworks, cross back into Derry and be violating the law? Coyle asked Garone.
“It would be unlawful to possess them in Derry,” Garone replied in the affirmative, igniting a lively discussion.
.“It just doesn't make sense to me, where you can buy these things and say, oh by the way you can't use them,” said Coyle. “It's like saying you can buy the marijuana, but don't smoke it.”
“Only in New Hampshire do you have package stores on the state highways,” said Town Administrator Gary Stenhouse.
Klauber pointed out that currently stores are obligated by ordinance to find out where customers reside and inform people when they purchase fireworks if they are illegal in their town.
“It's the same for towns like Manchester, Nashua and Hudson, where fireworks are illegal. It's part of the current RSA,” Klauber said.
The council was uncomfortable voting on the ordinance Tuesday, so close to a holiday dedicated to the pursuit of a fantastic fireworks.
“I realize the arguments on both sides of the issue, but I would hope people would take the opportunity to contact us and weigh in on this. I'm just not comfortable voting on this two weeks before July 4,” Councilor Neil Wetherbee said.
Stenhouse pointed out that even if they voted to maintain a ban Tuesday night, the ordinance would not go into effect for 30 days. In the meantime, police consider the former council's vote banning fireworks to be valid, and continue to treat fireworks complaints as such.
Yesterday, Councilor Davie Milz said he's received two e-mails from constituents, both against permitting fireworks in town.
“But both of those were based on the noise factor – no one expressed any concerns about safety,” Milz said. He reluctantly admitted that he has some experience with fireworks on his four-acre lot, but has always done it by the book, keeping safety in mind.
“I am conflicted in that, where I live, you might be bothering five people within in a mile radius. But people who live downtown, there's no way of controlling where the fireworks will go or how many neighbors you will bother. When we discuss this again, I would certainly be in favor of establishing a cut-off time – otherwise, you're always going to have people with a couple of beers in them blowing off fireworks at midnight, and that doesn't help anyone,” Milz said.
An unscientific poll of a dozen people shopping yesterday at Hood Plaza showed all in favor of allowing fireworks – but perhaps with a permit system.
Frank Sanchez of Londonderry said he attends Derry's annual fireworks display – which is sanctioned – but questions how the town aims to enforce a ban, given the enticement of border stores.
“My biggest thing about fireworks is that you need to have someone responsible in charge, to keep it safe. Other than that, how can you ban anything in a place where the motto is 'Live Free or Die'?” Sanchez said.
Sharon Hayward of Derry said her son has been known to shoot fireworks on their two-acre lot on the east side of town, without incident.
“It's ridiculous. It's no different than the liquor wars in Salem, where they have New Hampshire and Massachusetts state troopers waiting to arrest people who cross back over the border after buying alcohol. Banning something doesn't stop people from buying it. They will find a way. You have to take personal responsibility,” Hayward said.
She would like to see the Council consider time restrictions to keep peace between neighbors and permits to help officials keep tabs on where to expect explosions.
But she is less concerned about a little noisy celebration on national holidays during summer months.
“We've been here 35 years, and my neighbor used to light a canon every Fourth of July. Everybody prepared for it. We expected it. My other neighbor is a veteran, and every Veteran's Day he used to invite his veteran friends over and they'd shoot their guns in a salute,” Hayward said. “Every year I had to give my dog a pill in advance, to get him through it – who am I to spoil someone's fun on a holiday?”

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