The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly had its annual meeting in Seward Tuesday night. An ordinance to liberalize the use of fireworks in the Borough was the hot topic.
The Borough prohibits the use of fireworks without a special permit from the Mayor’s office, but it can’t do all that much in the way of enforcement. This ordinance, co-sponsored by Assembly members Brent Johnson and Kelly Wolf, sought to give residents a legal window of time in December and January for an activity that happens illegally anyway.
“Somebody specifically came to me, a fellow from Homer, came to me and said ‘why are you making me a lawbreaker? I go up to Caribou Lake and every year and my family shoots off fireworks’ And when I thought well, he’s going to shoot them off whether we make it legal or don’t make it legal. Furthermore, I thought of this: during the summer, I see a lot of people shooting off fireworks. And I thought if I can give these people a time when it’s legal to shoot them off, maybe they’d quit (doing it) in the summer when it’s a worse time to shoot them off,” Johnson said.
He laid out his reasoning for crafting the ordinance after several people spoke in opposition to it; residents who simply don’t like the noise, animal advocates speaking for pets who certainly don’t like the noise, and Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dave Beals, who fought back tears as he recalled for the Assembly a July 4th incident that resulted in the death of one child and serious injuries to two others.
“Some adults and their family were going up the road, put some fireworks in the back of their truck. The fireworks went off. Three kids were trapped in the vehicle…one of those children died and two were permanently injured. This is something I never want to see,” Beals said.
Seward Volunteer Fire Department Chief Dave Squires also opposed the ordinance, citing safety and oversight concerns.
“Everybody always wants to have a do-over when there’s a problem. This is your chance, you’re at that part right now. You have this do-over. I urge you not to do this…you have saved lives and you have saved injuries by setting a boundary for people to follow,” Squires said.
The measure’s other sponsor, Kelly Wolf, also decided to vote against the ordinance in the end, but not without some reservation considering individual liberties.
“I co-sponsored this ordinance because of the fact that last January, New Year’s Eve, I laid in bed and listened to an hour and a half of fireworks and guns going off. Do we ban guns? I do believe that we are infringing on our liberties, that the government is stepping on its people,” Wolf said, complimenting Johnson’s work on the ordinance.
Assembly member Bill Smith’s thoughts on the matter echoed much of the Assembly, that the current prohibition serves as a deterrent for behavior that can’t always be observed by Wildlife Troopers, who perform most of the enforcement of the ordinance, and that there is an avenue by which to have fireworks displays that goes through a permitting process with area fire chiefs and the Mayor’s office.
“Basically, what a lot of fireworks are, is it’s a public nuisance for private pleasure…I think that having the ordinance on the books is at best a modest deterrence, but if people know that the act is not permitted, then I would hope that they would think that they need to be extra careful because they’re doing something they know has inherent hazards,” Smith said.
The measure fell with a unanimous vote in opposition, leaving the Borough’s fireworks prohibition in place. The Assembly pushed back until its May 7th meeting a decision on instituting a fiscal note policy for legislation.