Fireworks illuminate the night sky over the Mendenhall Valley on New Year's Eve. Based on resident complaints, CBJ is considering new regulations that will restrict the types of fireworks that can be used in different parts of the borough, limit the sale fireworks and impose fines of $500 for violations. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

CBJ considers new restrictions on fireworks

Fuse is lit, but final decision is still a ways off.

If personal fireworks are part of your celebrations, your plans may go boom.

At Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the City and Borough of Juneau started considering an ordinance that prohibits personal fireworks outside of specific days and times. If passed, it would also restrict concussive fireworks to locations outside of neighborhoods, make it illegal to sell fireworks within the borough, limit the volume of fireworks a person can possess and levy $500 fines for infractions.

The proposal sparked robust discussion after municipal attorney Robert Palmer presented the draft. He said that he had worked with Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale to tighten the CBJ’s 2016 fireworks guidance, especially for concussive fireworks.

Police talk fireworks and New Year’s Eve safety

“The objective here is to create a code that allows showy fireworks within the fire service boundary and the concussive fireworks outside of that,” Palmer said. He noted that the proposal allows concussive fireworks north of Cohen Drive, north of the Douglas boat ramp and at Eaglecrest.

Palmer said the ordinance draft is modeled after the state code and a similar ordinance passed in Kenai.

“We need to solve the boom problem. It was bad this last year,” said Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski.

Assembly member Loren Jones, who chaired the meeting, emphasized that Monday’s review was designed to uncover questions. He said more discussion would occur before the assembly takes any action to move the ordinance forward.

“What I’ve heard from people is that the concussive fireworks are unpredictable as they have a huge shock value and cause the most consternation,” Hale said.

Assembly member Wade Bryson expressed concern over elements of the proposal.

“I think taking the concussive fireworks out of neighborhoods is acceptable to most residents. If we make all neighborhoods off-limits, you have a lot of people breaking the law,” he said.

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Assembly member Greg Smith said that he struggled with the level of detail around concussive fireworks in the draft.

“There are the booms, but there are also the whistles, the crackles, and the screams. One thing I’d work on is that concussive is not just something you feel in your chest but can be other sounds, too,” Smith said.

Mayor Beth Weldon agreed that the Assembly needs to spend more time figuring out the difference between flashy fireworks and things that go booms.

“We need a plan. But, I don’t know that I’d vote for a prohibition,” Weldon said.

Origin of the proposal

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Hale said that fireworks had been a nebulous area legally and policy-wise in Juneau for several years.

“The fourth of July 2020 was really terrible. Part of it was sales at Eaglecrest, and part of it was no city display,” she said. Her experience hearing from constituents and her own experience watching her dog suffer prompted her to start work on the proposal.

“My intent in having the ordinance drafted was really to get something on the table so we could talk as a community about how we want to handle fireworks for the entire community,” she said. “I’m aware of the desire to balance. The proposal is just a starting point.”

Hale noted that several Alaskan communities have a restriction on fireworks and that she is fully committed to working with Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska leaders on fireworks sales. Last year, Tlingit and Haida sold fireworks for personal-use ahead of the holiday.

At the time, Tlingit and Haida President Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson encouraged people purchasing fireworks at the popular pop-up shop to be respectful and mindful of their neighbors.

“I want to have the full conversation,” Hale said.

Summary of the proposed changes

Changes under consideration include:

— Prohibiting personal fireworks within the fire service area. The prohibition would not apply during certain hours on July 3 and 4 and Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, when non-concussive fireworks would be permitted.

— Restricting concussive fireworks to areas outside the fire service area between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on any day of the year. This includes sites in the part of town commonly called Out the Road, past Cohen Drive, Eaglecrest, and areas north of the Douglas boat launch.

— Making it illegal to sell fireworks within the City or Borough of Juneau.

— Leveling a $500 fine for the first offense and $500 plus a court appearance for the second offense.

— Reducing the legal amount of fireworks a citizen could possess to 25 pounds. (State law allows up to 250 pounds per person.)

The changes do not affect permitted public displays or regulatory use for public safety or wildlife control.

Contact Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

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