Fireworks illuminate the night sky over the Mendenhall Valley on New Year's Eve. At Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members discussed changes to soften the restrictions outlined in an earlier proposal that would have significantly curtailed the use and sale of fireworks in the city. Key questions include where fireworks can be sold and what types of fireworks qualify as concussive. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)

City committee mulls fireworks limitations

What’s too loud on July 4?

The use of personal fireworks in Juneau might go boom or bust, depending on what the City Assembly decides this spring.

At Monday night’s Committee of the Whole meeting, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members discussed changes to soften the restrictions outlined in an earlier proposal that would have significantly curtailed the use and sale of fireworks in the city.

“The goal is to find a way to let people have fun but protect neighbors from the noise,” said Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale, who introduced the initial draft of the ordinance in February.

CBJ considers new restrictions on fireworks

Initially, the proposal prohibited personal fireworks outside of specific days and times, restricted concussive fireworks to locations outside of neighborhoods, made it illegal to sell fireworks within the borough, limited the volume of fireworks a person could legally possess and levied $500 fines for infractions.

On Monday, assembly members discussed amendments to allow non-concussive fireworks on private property any day of the year and permit the limited use of certain concussive fireworks inside neighborhoods on July 3 and 4 and Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Proposed changes would also increase the volume of fireworks that someone can possess and allow firework sales in Juneau, as long as sellers meet certain conditions.

In addition, a stair-step style fine system was added for offenses. The amendment calls for a $250 fine for the first offense and a $500 fine and a court appearance for the second and subsequent offenses.

Under the proposed changes, concussive fireworks may be used outside the roaded service area any day of the year within certain hours. However, they may only be used north of Cohen Drive, on the Outer Point area of North Douglas and inside the roaded service area during certain times around the New Year’s and the Fourth of July holidays.

Defining concussive

After municipal attorney Robert Palmer walked assembly members through the proposed changes, robust discussion followed about the types of fireworks that should be classified as concussive.

Some assembly members expressed a desire to expand the list of fireworks permissible in neighborhoods on certain holidays.

Assembly wants to clarify fireworks laws

“I’d like people to have bottle rockets on July 4 and New Year’s Eve,” said Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski.

Assembly member Wade Bryson said that banning too many types of fireworks could lead to more controversy.

“What caused the strife was mortar type fireworks. We’ve removed too much. We should ban the highest concussive fireworks,”Bryson said. “The one everyone is complaining about is the mortars. Why don’t we get rid of those and let everyone else keep the other stuff? If we take the most serious ones out of the equation, we will solve the problems without riling up the citizens.”

Assembly member Greg Smith said that the process of classifying concussive fireworks is tricky.

“You can get very large bottle rockets or firecrackers with 10,000 firecrackers on a string. Some of these can be very disruptive,” Smith said.

Restricting firework sales

Under amendments discussed Monday, fireworks could be sold legally within city limits, but only under certain conditions.

To sell fireworks in Juneau, sellers must apply for a CBJ retail firework permit. To receive a permit, sellers would be required to:

— Possess a state permit.

— Have a retail location outside the fire service area.

— Receive approval from the fire chief.

— Agree to only sell “saleable” fireworks, as defined by state law.

In addition, the fire danger must be low or moderate. Once issued, the permit would be good for one year.

“The fire chief may revoke a permit, temporarily for dry conditions or if violations occur,” Palmer said.

Moving sales outside of the fire protection area prompted some concern.

“If we force the sale to the outer limit of the communities, you make it harder for people to get it and increase the liability for the seller. There’s no benefit to kicking them out of the fire service area,” Bryson said.

Hale said that there are benefits to limiting the areas where fireworks can be purchased.

“It’s good to find ways to limit them,” she said. “There are safety concerns inside the fire service area.”

Palmer said the decision around sales locations is a policy question to be determined by the assembly.

Next steps

Assembly members will continue to work with Palmer to make changes to the ordinance before the April Committee of the Whole meeting, where members will discuss the proposal again with the goal of finalizing the rules before the July 4 holiday.

Once final, city officials said that the city would issue a flier explaining the rules to help clarify what’s allowed and what’s not.

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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