Michigan cities battle fireworks law by limiting use

WARREN, Mich. (AP) - If it goes bang or boom, or explodes into a hot waterfall of sparks and colors, Warren Mayor James Fouts wants to keep it out of his city's neighborhoods.

Fouts and a number of other municipal and public safety officials from across the state are trying to limit what they believe is potential damage from a new state law allowing the sale and possession of bottle rockets, aerial cakes, Roman candles and firecrackers.

As of 4 p.m. Friday, police in Warren, just north of Detroit, were expected to begin enforcing a new city ordinance prohibiting the use of such fireworks within 30 feet of someone's property.

Other provisions limit the use of fireworks to the three-day periods around national holidays, and ban them from city parks, streets and sidewalks.

"The fireworks are starting earlier. They are lasting longer and they're louder," Fouts told The Associated Press this week. "Ordinary citizens are saying 'I want to get to sleep at night.'"

Lawmakers removed Michigan's long-standing ban on consumer fireworks beginning this year to boost the state's economy. Permits range from $1,000 for a permanent retail location to $600 for a temporary spot, such as a tent. Fireworks carry a 6 percent sales tax as well as a 6 percent fee that will go to a firefighter safety fund.

Some predictions put the influx of money for the state treasury at up to $10 million.

Fouts said that might be good for the state's coffers, but potentially devastating for local, cash-strapped communities left to deal with noise complaints from residents and safety problems sure to come with large numbers of people putting match or lighter to wick.

"The state gets all the money and we get all the grief," Fouts said. "This is an unfair, unfunded mandate."

Fouts is not in this fight alone.

Walker, near Grand Rapids in West Michigan, has outlawed the use of such fireworks at all times but the three days wrapped around each national holiday. The Grand Rapids City Commission did the same.

For example, legalized fireworks can be shot off July 3 through July 5. Tickets can be issued to anyone caught using them before or after that three-day period.

Other bans also are in place in West Michigan communities like Muskegon Heights, Hudsonville and Wyoming, and north of Detroit in Birmingham.

"One of the issues we end up with is with the types of fireworks that are now allowed it's pretty hard for people to even follow the law as written," said Grand Rapids Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Salatka. "Actually, anything that goes up in the air is supposed to come down on your property, and we all know that doesn't really happen.

"With the availability of fireworks you always have the chance of accidental fires caused by those, especially during dry conditions like we've been having."

In mid-June two garages were destroyed and eight homes damaged in one Grand Rapids neighborhood after fireworks landed in dry tinder near the garages. Twenty firefighters were needed to put out the fires. Damage was estimated at more than $32,000.

The July 4 holiday far and away has the heaviest demand for fireworks with a sharp decline in sales at other times of the year, said David Papard, a salesman at Victory Fireworks in Erie near the Indiana border.

The change in Michigan's law has resulted in more demand for fireworks in the state, but has added extra competition.

"There are 900 more licenses this year than last year," Papard said. "There are more retail outlets, but more people are buying."

Many of the new buyers have different tastes and are more conservative in how big a boom they are willing to make, he added.

"People ... the beer swilling, party throwing kind of people, they want the big stuff that is going to impress their neighbors," Papard said. "Others are not as interested in the big stuff. They are not as comfortable."

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