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Chief gives officials overview of new fireworks law

June 20, 2012 - Oxford and Addison residents will be able to legally shoot off fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July this year and there's nothing local officials can do about it.

That was pretty much the message Fire Chief Pete Scholz delivered last week to the Oxford Township Board.

"The public has free rein to do whatever they want to do with the fireworks," he said. "They can light them off at seven o' clock in the morning. They can light them off at two o'clock in the morning. They can light them off all day."

Scholz gave township officials an overview of the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, which took effect Jan. 1.

Basically, the new law allows the sale and use of consumer-grade fireworks such as Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks that leave the ground.

Scholz noted that even "inch-and-a-half mortars that probably go about 200 feet in the air and blow up" are now legal.

The public's ability to freely set off these consumer-grade fireworks is limited to the day before, of and after the 10 federal holidays, which include New Year's Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, George Washington's birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In total, that equals 30 days a year to shoot off fireworks without any interference from local authorities.

"There is positively no enforcement from the local municipalities and even from the state Fire Marshal's office to do anything about them during that time," Scholz said.

So, what about the other 335 days?

"The rest of the year, depending on what kind of nuisance (or) noise ordinance that you may have in place . . . you may be able to control it somewhat," Scholz told officials.

There are state-imposed restrictions on who can legally purchase fireworks and where they can be shot off.

The new law prohibits the sale of fireworks to anyone under the age of 18. It also prohibits their use by anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

"You have to be sober when you walk in to buy them and technically, you have to be sober when you're lighting fireworks off," Scholz said.

As to where the fireworks are detonated, the law prohibits them from being used on public property, school property, church property or the private property of another person unless express permission is obtained.

"The debris cannot fall on to someone else's property otherwise, you're liable for it," Scholz noted.

According to the state law, if fireworks cause damage to someone else's property, the person who shot them is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

And it's not just property damage that's covered under the law.

If fireworks cause the "serious impairment of a body function" of another individual, then the person responsible is guilty of a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to $5,000. A fireworks-related death is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000.

"I just hope that people have courtesy," Scholz told this reporter.

Township Supervisor Bill Dunn inquired as to whether the state law still applies when there are "drought conditions" during the summer months.

"You have no authority to ban (fireworks then)?" he asked.

Scholz indicated he's awaiting a decision from the state Attorney General's office on this issue because "we've got areas of the state that are under (a) complete burning ban."

As for selling fireworks, the new law states that any person who is certified by the State of Michigan to sell consumer fireworks is eligible to do so.

They must complete an application to the state's Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) including all required documents and fees. The applicant must pay an application fee of $1,000 if they're selling fireworks from a permanent building or structure and $600 for a temporary retail location. The location must meet National Fire Protection Association requirements.

Scholz told this reporter what's not mentioned in the state law is that fireworks vendors must get site plan approval from the local municipality for their outdoor sales area.

"You can't just throw up a tent and go," the chief told this reporter. "You have to go before the planning commission to make sure everything conforms, you have the correct amount of parking, etc."

Currently, there are more than 850 sites across the state registered to sell fireworks, according to Scholz. The LARA website only shows 651, but Scholz indicated the state's been slow to update it.

The LARA website shows none are registered in Oxford (a fact which Scholz confirmed), however, there are five registered in Lake Orion and one in Leonard. Scholz noted there's also one in Brandon Township.

"You see tents are sprouting up all over the place," Scholz told the board.

A local municipality cannot ban tent sales of fireworks unless they have an ordinance that also bans all other tent sales of items such as Christmas trees, pumpkins, arts and crafts, etc., according to Scholz.

"If you have that (ban) across the board and enforce it, then potentially you can keep them from setting up these tents to sell (fireworks)," he said. "But otherwise, you can't control much at all."

Based on what she's experienced in the past, Trustee Sue Bellairs doesn't believe prohibitions concerning fireworks have any real effect.

"I've lived here a long time. They light fireworks from Memorial Day on. They go every single weekend where I live," she said. "I just don't think you can do too much about it. People are still going to do it."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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