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Independence keeping loose fireworks rules

Mike Genet

Citizens can still shoot off bottle rockets for the Fourth of July in Independence, and the fireworks sales period for non-profit organizations will still start in late June.

A City Council majority voted Monday against additional fireworks restrictions, saying those could not realistically be enforced and that citizen complaints would overburden the police. The restrictions would have reinstituted the city’s ban on bottle rockets and pushed back the first day nonprofits could sell fireworks from June 23 to July 1.

Council members annually receive complaints about noise and late hours from fireworks. This year, as many municipalities canceled their fireworks shows due to the pandemic, citizens perhaps had more of their own personal displays, and an unusual weather pattern led to smoke from fireworks staying close to the ground overnight July 4.

Council Member Mike Huff said part of the reason the council allowed bottle rockets two years ago was to avoid police overload.

“We can’t enforce what we have, and this is unenforceable,” he said. “I feel like we’re going to wear our police department out; we’ll have neighbors screaming at neighbors.”

Council Member Mike Steinmeyer echoed the “undue pressure” on police and said people who wanted to would still buy bottle rockets from year-round outlets outside the city.

Steinmeyer and Council Member Brice Stewart said they didn’t want to restrict the sales period for non-profit organizations.

Firefighters had proposed the ordinance changes to bring Independence in line with neighboring cities – both in permitted fireworks and the sales period. Independence permits 16 non-profit organizations to sell fireworks as a fundraiser. In 2018, the city lifted its ban on bottle rockets

Firefighter Bob Frazier said the nonprofits make about 90 percent of their sales in the first few days of July.

“It’s not going to affect sales,” he told the council last week. “The only thing you’re going to be losing is people that shoot them off early; then come back and buy again.”

Assistant Fire Chief Mike Ditamore said Independence Police received 348 nuisance calls about fireworks in 30 days – more than half before July 1.

Ditamore noted last week the city already doesn’t allow sparkler bombs and sky lanterns. The additional restrictions would have included bottle rockets, missiles with fins or rudders for aerodynamics, Roman candles and single- or multi-shot parachutes.

“We’re looking at eliminating fireworks that wouldn’t be fully consumed once it went into the air,” he said, “so there’s no fallback to fire up a garage or yard.”

Ditamore said firefighters this year handled a few calls for minor structure or grass fires caused by fireworks debris.

“This is not anything radical; this is getting us caught up to what’s out there,” he said.

Council Member John Perkins joined Huff, Steinmeyer and Stewart in voting against the restrictions. Mayor Eileen Weir, Karen DeLuccie and Dan Hobart voted in favor.

“I don’t believe it’s smart to be this island where anything goes,” DeLuccie had said. “I admit we made a mistake a few years ago. We are the outlaw in allowing bigger fireworks.”

Weir said the lack of public fireworks displays this year contributed to the volume of citizen complaint calls, and “we really discourage people from doing their own displays.”

“It’s the most miserable couple days,” she said. “I try to go out of town, because the calls … just goes on and on and on. We have people in our neighborhood that are sensitive to that, or have pets that are sensitive to that.”