Ah. Summer in Maine.

The plaintive cry of the loon, the soft music of the wind through the tall grass … the constant, jarring blast of consumer fireworks at all hours of the day and night.

In the three years since the state lifted its ban on sale and use of consumer fireworks, the novelty has worn off a little — there are even indications sales are down — but many towns are still dealing with the noise, safety issues and complaints fireworks bring.

While what it says about us as Americans that we amuse ourselves by randomly setting off explosives without a care about what effect it may have on our fellow humans and our animal companions is a column for another day, how it’s dealt with says a lot about how Maine communities operate in general.

In the year after the ban was lifted in January 2012, there was a flurry of ordinances passed throughout the state, most easily in cities like Waterville and Augusta, that have police forces to enforce them.

In smaller municipalities, however, town officials and residents have to rely on the good fellowship of their neighbors.

When there’s no police force, there’s no one to enforce the ordinance.

In September 2012, nine months after the state ban was lifted and towns were struggling with how to deal with it, Wayne Town Manager Amy Bernard had been trying to deal with that issue since the town enacted an ordinance in February.

“The state police and sheriff’s office can’t help you enforce your ban,” because they won’t enforce a local ordinance, Bernard said at the time. She said it would be difficult for state and county law enforcement to keep track of what each town’s ordinance is, and even if they cited someone, it would be hard to prosecute.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said at the time that state police follow up on a fireworks call when they get one, presumably if someone is violating the state restrictions, “but our response will depend on several things, including how close a trooper is to the complainant and the priority of other calls.”

None of that has changed in the years since then, so towns are caught between trying to keep fireworks from getting out of hand and in a lot of cases not having ordinances to do it, largely because there is no way to enforce the ordinance.

Belgrade Town Manager Greg Gill recently used the time-honored scolding method to keep residents in line.

“Last year we received numerous phone calls about people not using fireworks correctly/safely, especially on the lakes,” Gill wrote in the May/June town newsletter. “We have one lake camp that has riding horses and horses really dislike fireworks, we have rockets landing on camp roofs, and we have rockets landing on boats in the water.

“If any harm comes from your misuse of fireworks you most likely will be sued for compensation and a lot of homes on our lakes are very expensive homes. Please don’t force the select board into taking action to protect property because of the lack of common sense in the use of fireworks.

“We have drinking and driving laws and there is talk about establishing drinking and fireworks laws in the state.

“Just a heads up, people.”

Well said.

Gill is correct in tying drinking to irresponsible fireworks use, but let’s face it — some people are just idiots.

And while his effort is to be applauded, one wonders if people who read the town newsletter are really the same people shooting rockets at boats and camps. The town’s population more than doubles as summer residents arrive, and many of the seasonal residents are from out of state and just know fireworks “are allowed” in Maine and don’t really care about the details.

When Maine lifted the ban on fireworks, it didn’t say, “OK, folks, Wild West. Anything goes.”

There are still rules: State law says fireworks can’t be used between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m., except on July 4, Dec. 31 and the weekends before and after those dates, when they can be used until 12:30 a.m. the following day.

They also can be used only on the fireworks possessor’s property or on property of someone who has consented to let someone use it.

Violators can be fined $50 to $500.

You have to be over 21 to buy, use or possess fireworks in the state. It also limits the types of fireworks that can be sold or used.

Area towns are still trying to figure out how to solve the problem.

One of the most recent was in December, when Oakland passed an ordinance against unnecessary noise and named fireworks as one of the culprits. That ordinance bans “unnecessary noise” from fireworks from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Winslow town councilors in November, also still grappling with how to deal with fireworks, decided to take a “wait and see” approach after a majority of residents in a referendum voted to either restrict fireworks to certain days of the year or prohibit them entirely. In the vote, 991 wanted some restrictions and 755 wanted a ban, for a total of 1,746; 1,532 voted to stick with the state rules.

The vote was prompted by complaints about fireworks, though Winslow Police Chief Shawn O’Leary said at the time they’d been on the decline each year since the ban was lifted.

In August, voters in Benton at a special town meeting rejected an ordinance that would ban them except for the Fourth of July.

Residents in support of the ordinance cited several issues with the use of fireworks in close proximity to their homes, including the effect the sound has on animals and those sleeping, the debris that falls after the firework is exploded and the time of night the fireworks are used, which several people said was often after 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., of course, is in violation of state law.

So as fireworks season approaches, towns wonder how to deal with the need some people have to light a fuse and hear a bang, and how to keep humans, horses, dogs, loons, camps and boats from feeling the effects.

Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email her at [email protected]. Twitter: @mmilliken47. Kennebec Tales is published the first and third Thursday of the month.

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