Greenwood voters debate fireworks ordinances
At a public hearing Tuesday, Greenwood residents weighed the rights of some to celebrate occasions with fireworks against the rights of others to have peace and quiet.
As in many other towns, the issue arose in Greenwood after the Maine Legislature passed a law making fireworks legal beginning this year.
But the law also provides for towns to restrict them with local ordinances.
So in response to complaints in recent months about fireworks at all hours, Greenwood selectmen have offered two ordinance proposals for residents to consider: ban fireworks entirely, or restrict their use to days and times around July 4th and New Year’s.
About 20 people turned out to offer their views Tuesday.
Charlie Lowe blamed the majority of problems on out-of-staters vacationing on area ponds. “They’re ruining it for the rest of us,” he said.
“I think the newness will wear off,” he went on. “If you ban them, you’re going to make [the users] uglier.”
Ken Cole, who lives on Twitchell Pond but serves as fire chief in Gilead, agreed. “I think it’s a novelty, and it will wear off. Gilead borders New Hampshire [where fireworks have long been available] and we have had no trouble with fireworks.”
Shawn Huston suggested the town simply educate people better about the state law’s restrictions on the hours of use.
Under the law, fireworks can only be used from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., except certain holidays.
Several people noted that the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department has said it cannot realistically enforce a town ordinance, so creating one would not be worthwhile.
David Stearns said he would be unlikely to use fireworks, but thought others should have the right.
“All the restrictions would do is prohibit honest people from enjoying fireworks on birthdays or other celebrations,” he said.
But, countered Pat Stewart, “If you had fireworks on everyone’s birthday, it would be pretty bad.”
She said she could live with limited usage, but wanted fewer days than those proposed in the ordinance.
A suggestion was also made that people who rent out their camps post a notice in them banning fireworks on the property. The law stipulates written permission to shoot them off on other people’s land.
Betsey Foster said she had talked to visitors who had rented on South Pond this summer. But, she said, they told her they would not come back because of the noise.
“It has an adverse economic effect,” she said.
Fire Chief Albert Curtis said his phone had been ringing steadily since July with complaints. “I tell them to call 911, and if that doesn’t help, call your legislator,” he said.
He wondered if the town might offer permits for individuals wishing to celebrate special occasions with fireworks, comparing the arrangement to permitted, licensed fireworks at Mt. Abram.
But, said Selectman Amy Chapman, “Then you’d be back to where you were, with other people not expecting them.”
And in response to Stearns’ argument about individual rights, Chapman said, “You’re taking away other people’s peace of mind.”
Selectman Arnie Jordan said that while enforcement would be difficult, an ordinance might still serve the purpose of sending a message to the state, “and if enough towns do it, it might be they are going to get the message.”
Eva Mills suggested the town wait another year to see if the usage diminishes overall before putting an ordinance up for a town vote.
Town Manager Kim Sparks said she had invited state Rep. Tom Winsor and state Sen. John Patrick to the hearing. Winsor could not attend, she said, and Patrick did not respond.
Winsor, who lives in Norway, sent a letter outlining why he had voted for the law. “A significant number of people in my neighborhood have been routinely using fireworks for years and they were imported from out of state. It had reached a point that I believed by authorizing and regulating the sale here we could better insure the safe and appropriate use of these fireworks.”
He also said he believes the novelty is wearing off.
Selectmen said at the conclusion of the 45-minute hearing that they would consider at their next meeting, on Sept. 4, whether to put the ordinance proposals to a town meeting vote.