WISCASSET — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court may be pulled into an ongoing legal battle between neighbors and the owner of a midcoast warehouse used for the storage of consumer fireworks.

The warehouse, owned by Allen Cohen – known locally as “Big Al” – is used to store consumer-grade Class C fireworks that Cohen sells at his retail store on Route 1. Tom and Katie Bryant, who live near the warehouse on JB’s Way, have taken him to court and lost, and say they are appealing next to Maine’s high court.

The Bryants allege that Cohen’s warehouse poses a risk to them and other residents in the area. The structure, which is just over 4,500 square feet and has two more storage containers adjacent to it, is located within 1,000 feet of multiple residences. It is also just 16 feet from the driveway the Bryants use to access their home.

The issue arose in 2013 when the Bryants found that Cohen was storing his fireworks in the warehouse. The couple bought their house in 2011, before fireworks were legal in Maine.

Normally, the warehouse would be required to be set back a certain distance from the driveway. However, the driveway is owned by Cohen, and is used by the Bryants via a right-of-way.

“How does it make any difference, for safety reasons, whether we own it or Big Al owns it? We’re still endangered either way,” said Tom Bryant.

The couple first filed a complaint with the Lincoln County Superior Court in 2014, and the dispute was the focus of more court battles in 2015 and 2016. They lost their last appeal on Sept. 28 and say the next stop is the Maine supreme court.

The Bryants said they have also obtained signatures from dozens of other nearby residents, who agree that they don’t like the presence of the fireworks storage in their neighborhood.

Despite the objections, Cohen said he is in 100 percent compliance with local, state, and federal requirements. He said the Bryants’ continued lawsuits are doing nothing but wasting money, considering the issue has been through the court system already.

“This is beating a dead horse, over and over and over again,” said Cohen. “It’s been through the planning board three times, it’s been through the court system twice.”

A letter from State Fire Marshal Inspection Supervisor Timothy Fuller, written in 2014, confirmed that Cohen was in compliance with state law. It also pointed out that in Maine, the storage of consumer-grade fireworks is unregulated.

The applicable Maine statute “does not require a separate permit to store consumer fireworks,” Fuller said in the letter. “I am not aware of any facts that lead me to believe that the building on JB’s Way is anything other than a cold storage facility.”

State Fire Marshal Inspection Supervisor Gregory Day confirmed that Cohen is still in compliance three years later.

“The statute does not require a separate permit to store consumer fireworks,” said Day. “He’s licensed by ATF to have his store and have his product; he’s in compliance of the Maine statute.” The ATF refers to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Day confirmed that Cohen had recently received an inspection for his retail operation, and is compliant and up to date with all requirements.

Special Agent Christopher Arone of the ATF’s Boston field division confirmed that as far as the ATF is concerned, Class C consumer fireworks are a non-issue.

“ATF doesn’t regulate consumer fireworks … or the storage of them,” Arone wrote in an email.

According to Day, the storage of consumer grade fireworks is left up to municipalities to regulate. Cohen’s warehouse is located in a “rural” zoning district, which does not restrict the storage of consumer fireworks.

That zoning designation is also used as proof that Cohen is in compliance with National Fire Protection Agency rules, which require consumer fireworks storage to be located “well away from residential areas.”

However, the Bryants contend that while the zoning may be rural, the language of the NFPA’s rules don’t go by zoning, they go by the term “area.” With several houses located within 1,000 feet of the warehouse, and over 50 residences within a half-mile, they contend it’s primarily a residential area.

“We just do not feel that there’s a zoning issue,” said Katie Bryant.

The only egress from their property is via their right-of-way. “It’s extremely hazardous location for a fire,” said Tom Bryant.

Chris Chase can be contacted at 386-5227 or at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.