In-town fireworks fizzle

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Council discusses allowing fireworks in city limits

BROOKINGS – In a study session Tuesday, the Brookings City Council discussed allowing residents to shoot off fireworks in the city limits but did not send the topic to a regular session.

Mayor Keith Corbett explained that during a study session the council does “a deep dive into topics” and there is no action taken other than possibly requesting the topic show up on a future agenda.

Councilor Leah Brink had requested the council look into the city’s policy of not allowing sales or setting off of fireworks. 

City Manager Paul Briseno explained the city does not allow the discharge of fireworks in the city limits, except for special events through a process. State law allows municipalities to make the decision.

There are various things to consider along with whether or not to allow fireworks, including the number of days and times to allow discharge, Briseno said.

Other communities

Fire Chief Darrell Hartmann looked at communities with more than 5,000 population to see how they handled fireworks. 

“Out of those, we only had two anomalies. Everybody else, we fall right in line with,” Hartmann said.

The exceptions are Box Elder and Mitchell, he said.

Box Elder has experienced rapid growth recently. They do allow fireworks for five days from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., “but it’s based on the grassland fire danger; in dry periods, it’s not allowed,” Hartmann said.

Mitchell’s fireworks policy says the landowners can shoot fireworks, Hartmann said. They are allowed to shoot fireworks only on July 3 and 4 between noon and 11:59 p.m.

“And it’s anything except projectile fireworks that leave the ground,” Hartmann said.

“Otherwise, we are in line with – I think there’s 18 communities – our ordinances really reflect closely with what they have,” he said.

Brookings County

City Clerk Bonnie Foster said Brookings County does not have an application fee or process fee for groups or events that want to do a fireworks display, she said.

They do ask individuals to come to a county commission meeting and plead their case. The commissioners ask if the people have gotten approval from the Brookings County Sheriff’s Office and the fire department and whether there is a fire ban in place, Foster said.

If anyone wants to sell fireworks, they have to talk to the county zoning board and apply for a conditional use permit, Foster said. They would be considered a seasonal retail stand and need annual approval.

Legal aspects

City Attorney Steve Britzman said state statutes give the city legal prerogative to allow or disallow fireworks, “which is the way the city ordinance has read for 30 years; I know for sure because I looked back at the prior ordinance versions back to 1991,” Britzman said.

Sales falls in the same state statute; cities have the prerogative to allow or prohibit sales, he said.

Because of the city’s long-standing prohibition on sales, fireworks have been sold right outside the city limits, he pointed out.

A city can allow fireworks for a shorter period than the state statutes, he said.

Reasons for discussion

Brink asked Foster to clarify what the county’s laws are regarding discharge of fireworks.

They go by state law, and questions are referred to the county finance officer, Foster said.

One follow-up consideration would be fire danger and dry conditions, Britzman said.

“People love fireworks, let’s be honest,” Brink said.

Fireworks set off in a city, even a large residential area, is done in other areas of the country, Brink said.

“Really, where this came from, in my mind, was I was thinking of the selling of fireworks,” Brink said.

“Every year, you see these stands that crop up … and there’s a retail opportunity there,” Brink said. People have approached her about selling fireworks in city limits, so she knows there is interest.

“For me, mostly this is about the ability to sell the fireworks, possibly in the city limits,” Brink said, adding it could be a fundraising opportunity for groups and organizations.

“I’m more ambivalent about whether or not we allow people to (set off) fireworks within the city limits,” Brink said.

She wanted to bring it forward to find out what the rest of the council thinks.

PTSD

Councilor Joey Collins asked Hartmann what he thought about legalizing fireworks in the city limits.

“To be very honest, if you’re gonna sell them in the city limits, they’re gonna fire them in the city limits,” Hartmann said.

He explained the different types of explosives and what would be novelty items.

“If you start selling fireworks in the city limits – we all know it already happens – but we will have more people firing fireworks in the city limits, which increases danger tenfold from what it already is,” Hartmann said.

“I’m completely against having the fireworks in town for a couple reasons,” Collins said.

“One, it’s loud, right? It’s illegal right now, but I can still hear them well after the time limit where I live. And they’re extremely loud,” Collins said.

“For those people who have PTSD, this is not just a little bit of a deal for them, this is a huge deal,” said Collins, who is an Army veteran and served in Operation Desert Storm. “It’s just a very scary situation. Even though it’s just a bang to us, or to most people, (for) the people with PTSD, it’s a huge deal.”

Sales tax revenue

Briseno said Brink had asked for projections for sales tax revenue and he contacted a town in Kansas similar in size with Brookings, “with a college in their backyard,” he said. They produce $7,000 to $10,000 in sales tax revenue annually from about five or six days of sales.

“They do have a lot of not-for-profits, church groups and what-have-you, selling fireworks in the community,” Briseno said.

Consider pets 

Councilor Patty Bacon elaborated on what Collins said, pointing out many residents have pets, in particular dogs, which “are really traumatized when folks shoot fireworks in our neighborhood, which happens every year.”

“So, I think the PTSD thing is extremely serious and we need to consider that, but we also have a lot of pets in our community and they get pretty traumatized through the whole experience,” she said.

Injuries

Councilor Ope Niemeyer sided with Bacon and Collins.

“I really don’t have an appetite to change the status quo that we have,” he said.

He recalled “some traumatizing type of injuries” where people have lost body parts due to fireworks.

He pointed out fireworks can be sold outside city limits, but with a dense population, the loud noise can invade people’s personal space.

Niemeyer said he had a dog that “would rip through his chain link fence to get away from the noise.”

Places with less dense populations, like lake side communities, do set off fireworks, and he has visited Lake Campbell to enjoy fireworks there, Niemeyer said.

He asked Hartmann if the fireworks in Mitchell is airborne.

“Not in the city limits, no,” Hartmann said.

Think differently

Brink suggested they think about it a little differently.

A community in Kansas sets up a big open area to have a day for people to shoot off their fireworks, she said. It’s supervised and “they come up with a way to do that safely,” she added.

“It just seems to me that that’s maybe one small pleasure that might be nice for some people to be able to partake of,” Brink said.

Fireworks are sold in a lot of places, “but they’re not legal to use in most of our places, right; so that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Brink said.

She pointed out Brookings residents buy fireworks at the stands that are right outside city limits, and it could change behavior if that stand “was 50 feet in a different direction.”

Police chief comments

Collins asked Police Chief Dave Erickson for his thoughts.

Last year, the police had 60 total complaints regarding fireworks, Erickson said.

“Eleven of those were outside of that Fourth of July week; primarily around the New Year’s time frame,” he said.

The other 49 were in a four-day window surrounding the Fourth of July, he said.

“By legalizing, I’m not sure if that would increase our complaints. I suppose a lot of it would come down to how well it’s communicated with our citizens that it is actually legal or it still remains against city ordinance. So I wonder how much activity that would create for our officers,” Erickson said.

If it’s legalized, there are still conditions to consider, whether it’s a wet or dry year, he pointed out.

“To me that seems like it could be a potential communication nightmare to our community of ‘OK, this year it is legal and next year it may not be’ sort of thing,” Erickson said.

“I guess I’m in favor of leaving the ordinance as it’s written. We deal with enough complaints regarding the fireworks,” Erickson said. “I love shooting fireworks, but I don’t know if, from a law enforcement perspective, if that would be a very wise thing to do at this point in time.”

In the future

Corbett asked what the council wanted to do.

“I don’t think anyone else is interested in moving forward with this, so I think we can drop it, but I do think it was interesting to learn all of this,” Brink said, adding she appreciated the staff time and research.

Niemeyer referred to Brink’s comment about a community space to shoot off fireworks.

“I kind of like that idea. But that’s about the only part that I like about it,” Niemeyer said.

He suggested someplace other than residential areas “so we don’t bother our neighbors. Because not everybody likes it.”

Brink said it would involve the fire department so “that could be a resource challenge, as well.”

Corbett said he usually gets comments from residents after council discussions, “so we’ll keep this discussion alive for a while.”

For educational purposes, Hartmann added that some people having weddings and other special events want to shoot fireworks. 

“There is an avenue to do that. They have to come in, request the form,” Hartmann said. 

“We have to review what they want to shoot, where they want to shoot. We also do this in our protection area in the county. So there are legal avenues for other displays, outside of the July Fourth and New Year’s events,” Hartmann said.

Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]

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