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Village sets public fireworks hearing July 24

by CJ Carnacchio

July 18, 2012

Oxford Village officials are seeking public input as they look to amend their local ordinance concerning fireworks to conform with the new state law that legalized consumer-grade fireworks.

"Currently, our village ordinance prohibits fireworks, but state law supersedes it," said village Manager Joe Young.

Council has scheduled a public hearing on the subject for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 24. The hearing will take place in the council chambers located at 22 W. Burdick 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.

"There is no control whatsoever (during those 30 days)," said Oxford Fire Chief Pete Scholz. "They can light them off 24 hours a day, anytime they want to do it."

"There's not a lot you can do about the 30 days during the year, that's locked in," said Oxford Township Supervisor Bill Dunn, who's a village resident.

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 existing fireworks ordinance that the village has on the books specifically references the previous state law, which was repealed and replaced by the new one.

"The current ordinances that we have in place all reflect the old state law, which basically (stated) you can't have anything (in terms of consumer-grade fireworks)," Scholz said. "You can't have a Roman candle, you can't own it, you can't buy it, you can't sell it, you can't do anything."

"That law has been repealed, so what you have on the books right now is nonexistent."

In light of this, council must now decide if it wishes to regulate the use of fireworks during the other 335 days of the year and if so, how to go about it.

Options range from banning their use completely within the village limits to regulating when and where consumer-grade fireworks can be discharged.

"I'm curious about how you're going to handle this because I'd like to see the township and village have somewhat of a similar ordinance," Dunn said.

Councilman Tony Albensi's main concern with shooting fireworks off in the village is the close proximity of the houses within the densely-populated municipality.

"We can't have people lighting off fireworks in their driveway when the houses in this village are so close together," he said. "We can't have people lighting off fireworks that end up in my backyard. It's important we take a lot of that into consideration."

"I'm all for (not regulating) people's lives so to speak, but there has to be some common sense involved," Albensi added.

Scholz had the same concern. The chief noted that most residential lots in the village are probably about 60 to 70 feet wide and 100 feet deep. Taking into account the space occupied by the usual house and garage, that leaves a grass area of roughly 20 feet by 20 feet on which to light fireworks.

Given some of these fireworks can go as high as 200 feet in the air and feature a fiery display that's roughly 200 to 300 feet wide, Scholz indicated the debris is most likely going to fall onto other people's property.

"That's coming down on somebody's house. It's coming down on people's cars, on their children," he said. "My personal opinion (is) that's a huge risk that I don't want to see happen."

It's also a legal risk for the person discharging the fireworks. "Anything that goes anyplace but (on) your (own) property, you are liable for and you can be ticketed for," Scholz said.

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.

Scholz told council in order to prevent these risks, it could always prohibit lighting fireworks on lots less than an acre in size.

"That pretty much eliminates 99 percent of the village," he said.

"I really like the idea of zeroing in on acreage," said Councilman Elgin Nichols.

Village President Tom Benner's primary concern was the times of day at which people are lighting fireworks. He believes they should be limited in that respect, so as to avoid disturbing people who are trying to sleep, relax, read a book or just watch a ball game on TV.

"Some people get up quite early in the morning to go to work," he said. "They don't want to listen to a big cherry bomb going off (outside) their bedroom window when they're trying to sleep."

Dunn noted it's not just people who are bothered by fireworks. "Don't forget the pets," he said. "The pets are being tormented."

Councilman Dave Bailey proposed restricting when fireworks could be sold in the village.

"I think it would be interesting to explore the possibility of restricting the distribution to those very same days (i.e. the 30 days referenced in the state law), so that people wouldn't be buying their fireworks weeks in advance," he said. "Let them buy the fireworks on the very same day."

However, it was pointed out to Bailey that local units of government have no control over that aspect. The law specifically prohibits municipalities from enacting or enforcing "an ordinance, code or regulation pertaining to or in any manner regulating the sale, display, storage, transportation or distribution of fireworks regulated under this act."