Waterford fireworks ordinance to go to voters in March

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WATERFORD — While it wasn’t a fully explosive issue, authors of the proposed fireworks ordinance agreed, at a January 8 public hearing, to modify the document after residents expressed concern and confusion over language that would essentially implement an all-out ban of fireworks, as this was not the intent of the ordinance.

Authors and Waterford officials clarified they support creating a permitting process – which takes into consideration fire danger and informing neighbors of upcoming noise events – to allow residents and out-of-town visitors to shoot off fireworks after obtaining a free permit from the town.

Bill Roy, president of the McWain Shores Association, Charlie Tarbell and a few others worked on the three-page document that addresses potential fire and pollution from fireworks and also considers “firework noise can be harmful to pets, livestock, veterans suffering from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], and to other people,” according to the draft document. Roy originally presented the ordinance to selectmen in August 2016. Selectmen agreed to bring it to Annual Town Meeting in March.

Tarbell explained Monday night, to the roughly 15 people in attendance, that the ordinance was modeled after Norway’s, where voters in 2015 at the Annual Town Meeting agreed to ban fireworks in Norway except with a special permit from the state.

“We discovered this was a lot like burning. … Let’s make it look like the burn [permit] process,” he said about the state requirement that Maine residents must obtain a burn permit from their municipality before they burn brush piles, wood debris and agricultural burns. “Fireworks have the same kinds of dangers as burning.”

Residents were confused about the wording in section B that states, “Prohibition. No person shall use, possess with the intent to use, sell, possess with the intent to sell or offer for sale consumer fireworks in the Town of Waterford.*”

The asterisk near the end of the document says in part, “By prohibiting the sale and use of consumer fireworks, the Town is effectively prohibiting the use of all fireworks in the Town of Waterford.” The authors want a permitting process to shoot off fireworks and agreed to discuss taking Section B and the asterisk wording out of the document.

One resident likened fireworks and the potential fire danger to shooting a gun and asked if a permit for the latter would be required next.

“I would look at this as not taking your rights away. We’re asking you to fill out a permit – it’s free,” said Selectboard Chairman Randy Lessard. He added residents will be able to visit the town’s website, www.waterfordme.org/, and see whether or not the permit was approved. It most likely won’t be posted until two or three days before the event to determine fire danger. “It doesn’t have to be a big deal. We’re not saying ifyou can’t have them, but we want to be able to say no if the fire danger is high.”

Dustin McAllister said he thought the ordinance was more about the noise negatively affecting people and animals than fire danger.

“I’m on the Fire Department. Do you know how many fires [from fireworks] we’ve had since they became legal? Zero,” he said.

Lessard told the audience he started a fire in a field when he was 17 years old after he set off an M-80 – a quarter stick of dynamite – in Casco and set a pipeline on fire. He noted several years ago there was a fire on Hawk Mountain that started from fireworks, which was before they became legal in Maine in 2012. Deadly wild fires in California in 2017 changed Lessard’s mind about requiring a permit for explosives in Waterford, he said.

Residents wondered who would enforce the ordinance since Waterford does not have a police department like Norway does. Once concerned neighbors check the town’s website to see if a fireworks permit was issued for the area or not, Lessard and Tarbell told residents to call the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office if no permit was issued.

Summer resident Bruce Whichard has a large fireworks display every Fourth of July. He collects donations throughout the year and in 2017 raised more than $1,000 in donations to send two veterans on an Honor Flight from Maine to Washington, D.C. He worried the ordinance could potentially punish people for simply possessing legal, consumer fireworks. He referred to D. Penalties.

It reads in part, “Any person who uses consumer fireworks or possesses consumer fireworks with the intent to use in the Town of Waterford shall be punished by a fine of not less than … $200 … and not more than … $400 … plus costs.”

“I do fireworks, I admit it. I do a good display. I’d rather educate people,” Whichard said, noting he begins collecting fireworks for his big display well in advance of the two- or three-day notice of whether or not the permit was approved. “It’s going to affect the good people, but the bad people are going to do whatever they want to do.”

After the hearing, Whichard said he has never received one complaint and only compliments on his extensive fireworks display. They’re all electronically set off from a barge in the middle of McWain Pond and every year he has a pyrotechnician come up from New Jersey to strip the explosives of the nonbiodegradable material so only biodegradable material burns.

Another McWain Pond resident noted the ordinance would allow the town to seize fireworks if the “Town has probable cause to believe are used, possessed or sold in violation of this section and shall forfeit seized consumer fireworks to the State for disposal,” according to the ordinance.

Selectman Wyatt Andrews noted he didn’t think anyone’s fireworks would be seized by the town.

“I think we’re a forgiving town. I think our concerns are safety fire safety … and we [want to] have some controls,” he said.

Roy and Tarbell agreed to meet with the rest of their group to revamp the ordinance and bring it back to selectmen. Code Enforcement Officer Bill Haynes said he would check with Maine Municipal Association’s Legal Department to see whether or not selectmen will have to host another public hearing on the updated document before voters weigh in on it at town meeting.

In other news, during their regularly scheduled meeting, selectmen:

  • agreed to modify the Personnel Policy to include holiday pay for full-time temporary employees after two weeks of work.
  • asked Highway Department employee Albert Heath to check with Highway Department Director Brad Grover to see if he wants to move forward with $20,000 in repairs on the 2007 backhoe, which isn’t scheduled to be replaced until 2027. The town is currently in the budget process in preparation for March Annual Town Meeting.
  • directed Deputy Town Clerk Betty Becker to pursue a pest control new vendor, Affordable Pest Control, to see if the town can save money.
  • signed a poll permit on Plummer Hill Road for Central Maine Power. Since it’s in the town’s right of way, selectmen need to sign the permit, according to Code Enforcement Officer Bill Haynes.