WINSLOW — A public discussion on consumer fireworks at town hall was often as inflammatory as its topic.

About 30 people turned out Monday night for the hour-long workshop, which was held at the end of a regular Town Council meeting. No vote was taken, but the council will eventually consider a recommendation to ban the use of fireworks on all but 12 days per year.

The workshop began with a report by an advisory committee that had studied the issue of fireworks use in town. Afterward, eight residents approached the podium to speak against fireworks, and one spoke in favor. On three occasions, the discussion grew so heated that Chairman Gerald Saint Amand pounded his gavel.

Police Chief Jeffrey Fenlason spoke on behalf of the advisory committee — a four-member group that also includes the fire chief and two town councilors. Fenlason said his department has responded to more than 100 complaints since Maine lifted its decades-old ban on consumer fireworks on Jan. 1. In most cases, the complaints were made against people who were using fireworks within the law.

Nonetheless, police must respond to all calls, which is putting a strain on the force, he said.
Fenlason handed the council a draft ordinance authored by the committee. If passed as written, fireworks couldn’t be used on properties smaller than 1 acre. Also, if passed, fireworks could only be used on 12 days:

• New Year’s Eve
• New Year’s Day
• Martin Luther King Jr. Day
• Presidents Day
• Patriots Day
• graduation day for Winslow High School
• July 3
• Fourth of July
• Labor Day
• Columbus Day
• Veterans Day
• Thanksgiving

Saint Amand appeared surprised by the committee’s proposal.

“Twelve days? Wow.” Amand asked Fenlason if it’s too early to consider restricting fireworks use, and suggested that the novelty might wear off.

“Maybe it will,” Fenlason replied. “I hope it will.”

Councilor Kenneth Fletcher said he has closely followed reports of fireworks in local police dispatch logs, and said he hasn’t noticed a reduction in calls in Waterville since their council enacted a ban, effective June 18.

Next, Winslow residents addressed the council.

Claudette Clish, of Clifford Avenue, was visibly upset with the council and clashed briefly with councilor Paul Manson. Clish said fireworks are inherently dangerous and their smoke causes breathing problems for her 92-year-old mother. She said she hasn’t made any calls to police, but she wants the town to do a cost analysis on the amount of property taxes the town receives from fireworks store Pyro City Maine on China Road versus the amount of money the town spends responding to complaints.

“If you guys want to keep (the fireworks store) in town, up their taxes,” Clish told the council. “You guys should be ashamed of yourselves because you should be making decisions that are safe and keep our community quiet so we can relax.”

Paul Mercier, of Chadwick Street, held up a calendar and told the council that fireworks have been fired near his house 20 times in 23 days, all from the same address.

“We’ll sit on the deck to have lunch — bang. We’ll go to bed at night — bang,” Mercier said. “When it’s on a daily basis, one’s nerves tend to get frayed.”

Zach Freeman, of Chadwick Street, was the lone resident who spoke in favor of fireworks at the meeting. He is also Mercier’s neighbor. Freeman said he has complied with state laws, but Mercier has reported his activity to police three times. Freeman has tried to strike a compromise with Mercier — to find suitable days and times for fireworks displays — but Mercier is adamantly opposed to any use, Freeman said.

Freeman added that he’s in favor of an ordinance to restrict fireworks to weekend nights and require fire permits for each use.

“I want us to be able to have fireworks here in Winslow,” he said. “I want us to be able to do them safely.”

Resident Peggy Gallant, of Jack Street, said she moved to Winslow from California last year after retiring. She said she chose Winslow because it was quiet and she was disappointed by Maine’s decision to legalize fireworks. She also questioned Freeman’s desire to use fireworks.

“What’s the point? I don’t get it. It goes up, it makes a noise, it makes light, it goes down. I don’t get it,” she said.

Marlene Martin, of Clifford Avenue, said consumer fireworks have turned the town into “pure hell.” She questioned how the council can allow fireworks but also enforce a noise ordinance that prohibits the use of anything “loud and unreasonable.”

“Fireworks are ‘loud and unreasonable,’” she said. “How are (police) supposed to keep up with this?”

Resident Bob Farrell said he is also concerned about noise, and questioned whether lot-size restrictions in the draft ordinance would be effective.

“Can you keep the sound within an acre and a half? I don’t think so,” he said.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239
[email protected]

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