Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 25, 2012

Newsmakers: Many popping off over fireworks rules


TRAVERSE CITY — Editor's Note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.

Fireworks likely will bang in the New Year here — and potentially set off another furor over late night revelries.

But local officials say they are perfectly legal and hope they'll quickly fizzle.

"I just told my authority board, you might be getting a lot of complaints," said Pat Parker, chief of the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department. "But it's people's constitutional right to shoot them off."

The state eased firework regulations on Jan. 1 last year. The new law allowed year-round sale and use of previously banned fireworks, including roman candles and bottle rockets.

The law unleashed a firestorm of summertime revelry and complaints of litter and noise. The booms, zings and hisses kept people up at all hours, made babies cry, and distressed veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

"We were hammered. People complained they had to get tranquilizers for their dogs," said Patrick Pahl, Blair Township supervisor.

Pahl thinks colder weather will defuse excessive fireworks on New Year's Eve.

Blair, Peninsula and Acme townships, along with the city of Traverse City, passed ordinances in late summer to confine fireworks to the day before, day of, and day after the 10 national holidays. Fines range from $100 to $500, depending on the municipality.

Peninsula Township Supervisor Rob Manigold said the township was going to take a wait-and-see attitude until they heard someone in Acme "blew part of their body off."

"A lower extremity, if you know what I mean," Manigold said.

Parker said his crew handled the call and confirmed an Acme man suffered a fireworks-induced injury. He couldn't detail the nature of the injury, but said he was taken to Munson Medical Center.

Parker reported only two minor grass fires caused by fireworks. And only one fire in Traverse City was traced to fireworks, said Mike Sheets, Traverse City Fire Department captain.

Someone used a small outbuilding to store used fireworks, which combusted and destroyed the building, he said.

"We were all worried that fires were going to be a huge issue, but it turned out not to be as serious as we thought," said Sheets, who nearly lost an eye to fireworks in the 1970s.

Long Lake Township may take action, but is first researching ordinances, said Leslie Sickterman, Long Lake Township's planner.

"It's definitely not going away," Sickterman said.

Yet she concedes enforcement will be an issue because Long Lake Township can no longer fund a county deputy.

Rory Heckman, Benzie County's sheriff, would welcome an ordinance.

"People aren't used to their neighbors shooting fireworks off at 2 a.m., but there's not much we can do unless they're drinking or letting kids do it or damaging property or being reckless," Heckman said.

Alan Gray contends the Peninsula Township ordinance is overkill because it limits fireworks to only 30 days a year.

"What about the Cherry Festival? Generally speaking, there are fireworks all over the place," Gray said.

He would like the township to consider alternatives such as a curfew.

State Rep. Richard LeBlanc, D-Westland, who unsuccessfully tried to amend the law, doesn't believe local governments can set curfews during national holidays.

The law prompted a huge statewide outcry and LeBlanc proposed amendments to the law, but couldn't get a hearing.

Rep. Wayne Schmidt, R-Traverse City, said complaints caused him to join an ad hoc committee to review the law.

"Our goal is to look at it next year. Quite frankly, I think some of the novelty has worn off," said Schmidt.