EDITORIAL – With fireworks, payoffs seem minor for noise, nuisance

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In February, the Windham Town Council voted to allow the sale and use of fireworks, citing the need for a kind of neighborly responsibility that is difficult to legislate. They found out last week that not everyone was listening.

“Over the last three weeks, four weeks, we’ve heard nothing but fireworks,” said Chris Henderson, one of a dozen Windham residents who attended last week’s council meeting to complain about nightly fireworks displays. “Now it’s to the point that I have a 3-year-old and 5-year-old, and the people across have three little ones, [and they’re] awake every night until 10 p.m. It’s not healthy for kids. People who have to work third shift, people who just have to get good sleep.”

Following the testimony of the residents, councilors decided to revisit the fireworks question, in order to consider some type of ban.

Not that it will help.

The South Portland City Council took an early stance against the new law, voting in October on a complete ban on the sale and use of fireworks. But with two fireworks stores right across the city line in Scarborough, police in South Portland are finding themselves busy.

“We’ve seen a significant uptick in calls,” Police Chief Ed Googins said recently. “We’re not just getting phone calls, we’ve had reports on our tip line, and emails from people who are upset. A number of them have been reported to us as gunshots, which ratchets up our whole level of response, but the disposition of those calls all turned out to be fireworks.”

The same is happening in other communities, as well. In Westbrook, after many complaints from the public, the City Council has scheduled a hearing for August to talk about possible regulations. In Scarborough, where the use of fireworks is allowed just five days a year, police fielded 35 fireworks calls in one week in June, compared to 11 for all of 2012 prior to that. The Saco City Council on Monday night approved an emergency ban on fireworks after receiving numerous calls and in-person complaints from residents.

So, for what have Mainers traded their summertime peace and quiet?

Last week, the Department of Economic and Community Development put out a press release titled “No Dud: Legalization of Fireworks is Economic ‘Boom’ for Maine,” a play on words no doubt hilarious to all the residents bothered by nightly noise. The release touts the addition of 40 full-time employees and the projection of close to $4 million in revenue for a company that owns five of the fireworks stores opened so far.

“It’s all about the economy,” Gov. Paul LePage said during a recent stop at a Scarborough fireworks store. “There’s a demand and we want to make sure there’s an adequate supply that’s safe and sold to the people of age within the law.”

New jobs are nothing to scoff at, but it is an open question whether a few dozen retail positions and a relatively small amount of sales tax revenue are worth it. That’s especially true when considering the time and money being spent at the municipal level to deal with problems generated by fireworks, from additional police and fire calls to the formulation and consideration of ordinances to protect residents.

In time, the enthusiasm for fireworks may wane, giving residents and law enforcement a break. Until then, towns and cities throughout Maine are going to have to deal with it, absorbing all of the costs while receiving little benefit.

Ben Bragdon is the managing editor of Current Publishing. He can be reached at bbragdon@keepmecurrent.com or followed on Twitter.

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