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Twp. board to discuss possible regulation of fireworks use



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July 04, 2012 - There are lots of noises that can keep a person from drifting off to dream land at night – the incessant barking of dogs, raucous parties, fireworks bursting in the sky.

Tom Schaible is hoping the Oxford Township Board can do something about that last one from both a noise standpoint and a public safety perspective.

"It's been rather loud lately," said the 36-year Oxford resident, who lives in the Davis Lake Highlands subdivision. "It's kind of frightening. Someone could get hurt if one of these misfires, which they can do. Someone could get seriously hurt."

The township board is scheduled to discuss what it can do to possibly regulate the local use of fireworks at its 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 11 meeting. The board meets on the second floor of the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center (28 N. Washington St.) in downtown Oxford.

A new state law called the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, which took effect Jan. 1, legalized the selling of consumer-grade fireworks and the unlimited use of them – without a permit – on the day before, of and after the 10 national holidays, which includes Independence Day.

Consumer-grade fireworks include things such as Roman candles, bottle rockets and certain aerial shells not exceeding 1.75 inches in diameter.

As for the other 335 days of the year, it's up to municipalities to enact and/or enforce local ordinances regulating the ignition, discharge and use of consumer-grade fireworks.

"(The state law) really addresses what days you can do it on, but it doesn't really say if you're outside the scope of those days, what the punishment is," said Oakland County Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Patterson, commander of the Oxford Township substation.

Oxford Township comes up short because the ordinance language it has on the books concerning fireworks specifically incorporates the previous state law, which was repealed.

"The township would have to adopt some type of local ordinance to address the issues with the new law as far as what they want enforced and how they want it enforced outside those (30) days," Patterson said "Look at our title, it's law enforcement officer. If there's no law, then there's no law to enforce.

"This goes hand-in-hand with all that stuff I've been saying for years about needing those ordinances reviewed and updated. The law's ever-changing and you've got to stay on top of it."

The township has some language governing noise in its zoning ordinance. However, it concerns the maximum allowable noise levels, as measured in decibels, at certain times of the day as related to specific land use classifications.

"It's not really practical for regulating the use of fireworks," said Supervisor Bill Dunn. "It's more for industrial activity or gravel mining operations, that kind of thing. And even then, you need a special instrument to measure the sound."

In light of this and the complaints from Schaible and other residents, Dunn believes it's necessary to bring the fireworks issue before the whole board for discussion and potential action.

"People are complaining and I don't blame them," he said. "I wouldn't want somebody shooting off fireworks at all hours of the night while I'm trying to sleep or shooting them into my backyard. Some people just don't have any common sense or know how to be polite – that's why we have to make ordinances sometimes."

Schaible explained how recently a family was shooting off fireworks from the Davis Lake Association beach property around 11 p.m., two nights in a row.

"(My wife and I are) right across the street, so it was quite loud," he said. "We were trying to go to sleep."

"They were setting off these mortars," Schaible continued. "(It) was almost like (military) ordnance – I was in the service. I could feel the shock waves from these mortars that were going off."

Schaible went over and politely asked the folks to stop and fortunately, they complied.

"They were cordial enough," he said. "But I don't think they would have stopped if I hadn't gone over there."

But it's not just the noise that worries Schaible.

"In this dry weather, fire is always a concern," he said.

He's concerned about one of these fireworks hitting a house or other structure.

"I talked to a friend of mine (who lives in Oxford Village) and he said he found a spent rocket in his swimming pool," Schaible said. "Years ago, I had a neighbor that liked to set them off on the Fourth of July and I found spent rockets on my roof."

Schaible sees the potential for this new state law to pit "neighbor against neighbor."

"If your neighbors are doing it, you become the bad guy if you complain or call the police," he said. "It's just not good for community relations as far as I'm concerned."

Patterson said it would be possible to cite someone who's shooting off fireworks for disturbing the peace, but only if there is a person willing to file a complaint and testify in court as to how their peace was disturbed.

"I don't really see a difference between someone playing their music loud at three o'clock in the morning and someone using fireworks," he said. "It's just a different tool to disturb your peace."

Although he admitted it might be "stretching it," Patterson indicated that perhaps littering charges could be applied if spent fireworks land on someone else's property.

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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