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Future of fireworks up in the air

Twp. works toward 335-day a year ban

This year’s fireworks free-for-all has sparked numerous complaints from residents. Local officials are now working on solutions for the future. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 18, 2012 - In light of numerous noise complaints and safety concerns, the Oxford Township Board last week voted 4-2 to begin drafting a new ordinance that would ban the use of fireworks on all those days not specifically protected under the new state law.

"We have been barraged in my neighborhood by fireworks from the (Lake Villa) trailer park for weeks," said township resident Holly Hadac, who lives in Grampian Acres. "It's been a war-zone over there – morning, noon and night . . . They shake my windows and my roof."

A first reading for the proposed ordinance will occur at the township board's 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8 meeting, which takes place on the second floor of the Oxford Veterans Memorial Civic Center (28 N. Washington St.).

The Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, which took effect Jan. 1, legalized the selling of consumer-grade fireworks and the unlimited use of them on the day before, of and after the 10 national holidays.

Consumer-grade fireworks include things such as Roman candles, bottle rockets and certain aerial shells not exceeding 1.75 inches in diameter. Basically, the category encompasses many fireworks that leave the ground and explode in the air.

"The State of Michigan, unfortunately, threw another law at us as bad as the (medical) marijuana law," said township Supervisor Bill Dunn. "They just threw a lot of problems at all the communities."

Although local municipalities can do absolutely nothing to regulate the 30 days a year mentioned in the state law, they can control the other 335 days any way they see fit.

"A local unit of government may enact an ordinance regulating the ignition, discharge and the use of consumer fireworks. However, an ordinance enacted . . . shall not regulate the use of consumer fireworks on the day preceding, the day of, or the day after a national holiday," the law states.

"During those 30 days, we don't have any control," said Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz. "They can light them off 24 hours a day for those three days and there's nothing we can do about it. The rest of the year you can regulate it."

The township's existing fireworks ordinance language is null and void because it specifically incorporated the previous state law, which was repealed and replaced by the new one. The old state law banned consumer-grade fireworks.

When it comes to stopping people from shooting off fireworks, Trustee Sue Bellairs believes the township can "curtail some of it," but "it will never, ever be gone."

"I've lived here 40-something years and I've never seen it enforced because (there's) too many (people doing it)," she said. "We don't have enough police. We don't have enough fire (personnel)."

"They have to catch them doing it," she noted.

Bellairs indicated in previous years, she watched police cars ride up and down the streets looking for people shooting off fireworks. The people doing it usually just stop until the police are gone, then start firing them again.

"It isn't just the trailer park," she said. "It's every subdivision in this whole township and every other township . . . Don't ever think it will be gone completely.

"But I would like to see it curtailed to the best (that) we can curtail it."

"When someone says there's not enough police, that's not an excuse to me. They've got time," said Hadac, a retired deputy who spent 27 years with the Oakland County Sheriff's Department. "When I called one time . . . the deputy was already in the (trailer) park on some other complaint.

"(Not enough police) wasn't an excuse when I was working and it's not an excuse now. They can get their butts over there and start writing some tickets. And when it's dark outside . . . you can sneak up on people with the lights out in a police car."

"You can, but you can't be everywhere," Bellairs responded. It was noted only three sheriff's deputies are on duty during a night shift.

Trustee Mike Spisz didn't support the idea of a total ban on fireworks for 335 days a year.

"I think we need to be a little bit smarter about how we do this," he said. "Why wouldn't we allow taxpayers, if they so choose during normal daytime (hours), to discharge fireworks – on any day? Why does it really have to matter? As long as they're smart about it."

Spisz suggested maybe requiring people to get a permit to shoot fireworks, just like a burn permit, "because there's certain days of the year that are super dry."

"That's what I mean by being smarter versus just saying let's just outlaw it," he said.

To that, both Supervisor Bill Dunn and Treasurer Joe Ferrari replied, "I like the outlaw it (idea)."

By banning it, Ferrari noted township residents would still have to "suffer through" those 30 days of unlimited fireworks use, but at least they'd "know there's end" for the rest of the year.

The only exception to the proposed ordinance would be for people who get a special permit from the township board, with the approval of the fire department, to put on a fireworks show.

Clerk Curtis Wright asked Scholz if his department has responded to any fireworks-related calls.

"We've gotten probably two grass fires from it," replied Scholz. "We can't positively (prove it). It's just weird at night, when all of the sudden the fire starts out in the gravel pit (and) there's nothing else there, but it backs up to a subdivision where they were lighting them off just before that . . . Other than that, it's just been the noise issues."

Michael Mahan, who owns a Lake Orion-based fireworks business, urged the board not to outlaw them for a variety of reasons. One was the positive impact on the local economy.

"I hired four different people, gave them jobs," he said.

"I think you're kind of jumping the gun a little bit and you're kind of taking business away from people already," Mahan said.

Another reason Mahan cited was individual rights.

"Do they bother some people? Absolutely," he said. "But do the people have a right to shoot their fireworks? Absolutely . . . I have a right to celebrate my freedom in this country by lighting fireworks."

Mahan noted he tries to tell all of his customers "to be respectful of your neighbor."

"Contact your neighbor and let them know that you're going to be shooting fireworks off," he said. "That's just being polite and courteous."

Mahan asked the board to regulate the use, not ban it altogether. "If you try to squash it . . . it never will happen," he said.

He suggested the township allow people to shoot fireworks for 30 minutes after dark.

"That's it. Anymore than that, you're going to get a ticket," Mahan said.

Mahan told the board the reason everyone's hearing so many fireworks and complaining is because "it's brand new this year."

"It's going to wear down," he said. "Trust me, with the price of fireworks, people cannot afford to shoot fireworks every day. They can't do it. They're expensive . . . An average cake, a small cake, is $50 for 30 seconds of fun. People can't afford that too much."

Mahan urged the board to "let it calm down" and "see how it plays out" as opposed to outlawing it now.

"Why not think about regulating it?" he told the board. "Why just a ban on it? That's not right. Let it cool down a little bit. It's not going to continue at this rate."

"I don't want to tear anybody's business down, but (Mahan's) selling firearms to people that are not educated in that area," responded one township resident from the audience. "We are woken up at two o'clock in the morning, windows rattling . . . It started in June and it's still going on now. I'm licensed to carry a gun. Why don't we just give a gun to everybody that doesn't know how to shoot?"

With regard to using fireworks in the Lake Villa Mobile Home Community, both Scholz and Hadac noted that it is forbidden there.

"Nowhere in that entire trailer park is it legal to light fireworks off at any point in time, even on the (30 days under the new state law)," he said. "It is still illegal in that trailer park to light off a firework. (Per state law) you cannot light fireworks off from any other piece of property without written consent, other than your own personal property. . . . You can't do it from a mobile home park because none of those people in there own the property that they're sitting on. So that entire complex, you cannot light fireworks off in there, period.

"It's no different than an apartment complex. It's no different than a condominium development. You don't own the property that you're sitting on, so you can't light the fireworks off legally in there."

"The managers of the trailer park told me they wrote five violations (for fireworks). They could have written 500," Hadac said. "They've had a security guard in the park. I don't know what he was doing for the last three or four weeks. But I suppose five's better than what they had before because to our knowledge, they didn't do anything before."

The effect of all the fireworks noise on pets was also a topic of concern.

"My dog right now, I can't even get him to go out the door to go to the bathroom," Scholz said. "Usually, this dog is the most playful dog (and willing to) go anywhere. He's just spastic right now – (he) shivers the entire time from (the fireworks)."

"I feel bad about the dogs," Dunn said. "I feel terrible about a dog or any animal that pees himself in the house because he's afraid to go outside."

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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