The Juneau Assembly has directed the city attorney to draft a borough-wide ordinance restricting the use of fireworks.
After speaking with Juneau Police Department officers about the hot-button issue during a work session Monday night, the Assembly began working on a partial fireworks ban.
Loosely following staff recommendations, Assembly member Mary Becker requested that that the city’s law department draft an ordinance limiting the dates and times that people are allowed to possess and use fireworks.
The proposed ordinance would restrict the use of fireworks to Dec. 31 through Jan. 2, and July 3 through July 5. On those days, people would be allowed to shoot off fireworks between 10 a.m. and 1 a.m. Using fireworks outside of those days and times could result in a civil fine of $300.
The ordinance would also prohibit the year-round possession of fireworks. The ordinance would allow Juneau residents to possess fireworks from Dec. 15 through Jan. 10 and from June 15 through July 10. Possession outside of those days would result in a fine.
The Assembly is still a long way from formalizing Becker’s request. Before it can be adopted, it will go to the Assembly for a full hearing, at which the public will be able to weigh in. It could be weeks, if not months, before that happens.
Becker’s motion passed, but not by much. The Assembly approved it by a 5–4 margin, and not everybody was wild about the ordinance, including some of its supporters.
Assembly member Debbie White backed Becker’s motion, but she also pointed out that she plans to make some amendments once the ordinance is drafted and back in front of her. She hopes to lengthen the possession periods.
She made it clear that she wouldn’t ultimately support an ordinance that she deems too restrictive.
“This town has gotten really good at saying ‘no,’” she said. “This is just one more thing we’re saying ‘no’ to.”
Along with Becker and White, Assembly members Jamie Bursell, Maria Gladziszewski and Jesse Kiehl supported the motion.
Mayor Ken Koelsch opposed the motion. He said he might support a partial fireworks ban, but not one that limits possession.
“I think that we’re going from a community celebration, in some aspects, to sparklers, and I think we’re going to it without the ability to see if just limiting the date and time solves the problem,” he said.
According to JPD spokesperson Lt. David Campbell, restricting possession is key if JPD is to enforce any fireworks prohibitions, partial or not.
“If I walked in and there were 15,000 fireworks sitting on the floor in front of you guys, I couldn’t do anything unless you were using them,” Campbell told the Assembly.
The city’s noise ordinance already prohibits people from shooting off fireworks after 10 p.m. on weekends and 9 p.m. on weekdays. The problem is that ordinance is almost impossible to enforce, Campbell and Lt. Kris Sell explained to the Assembly Monday.
In 2013, JPD received 65 complaints for fireworks. The next year, it received 128 fireworks complaints. That number dropped to 88 in 2015, but the dip didn’t last long. So far, JPD has received 133 fireworks complaints this year.
“It’s very, very problematic to use the noise ordinance to try and control fireworks,” Campbell said.
Without prohibiting possession, if he were to respond to a fireworks complaint, Campbell would have to catch the perpetrator in the act to cite him or her, even if he or she sitting next to a huge fireworks stash.
Catching people in the act of shooting off fireworks is difficult. So difficult, in fact, that since the noise ordinance became effective two years ago, JPD hasn’t written a single fireworks citation.
If possession were prohibited, Campbell could at least confiscate any fireworks on the premise if he got a noise complaint even if he wasn’t able to witness somebody shooting them off. This might prevent the noise violation from persisting, he said.
“I’m fairly confident to say that the suggested prohibition would make our job easier,” Campbell said of Becker’s motion.
During its work session Monday, the Assembly also moved its equal rights ordinance on to the full Assembly for consideration.
If passed, the equal rights ordinance will ban discrimination based on race, color, age, religion, sex, familial status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or national origin.
The vote to move the ordinance on to the full Assembly was nearly unanimous. Only Assembly member Jerry Nankervis voted against moving the ordinance along, describing it as “about 14 pages too long” and “onerous.”
“I think it’s way too long, way too restrictive, and frankly unnecessary,” Nankervis said, speaking to his objection.
In June, the Assembly held a special meeting to take public comment on the equal rights ordinance. Of the 30 people who testified, 29 spoke in its favor.
The Assembly will take up the ordinance again on its Monday meeting.
• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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