National

Fireworks rift rises; changes proposed

The explosions of New Year's Eve fireworks over Anchorage neighborhoods are six weeks away, and with the 2010 ordinance that allows the amateur pyrotechnics set to expire after this year, a group of concerned residents is pushing the Assembly to let the law fizzle out.

Meanwhile, at least one Assembly member is busy with plans to rework the law ahead of this New Year's celebrations, hoping to add limits to when fireworks can be possessed and where they can be set off.

Changes to the municipal code in 2010 allowed fireworks to be set off in Anchorage from 9:30 p.m. Dec. 31 until 1 a.m. Jan. 1. Residents last year flocked north to the nearest fireworks stands in Houston. Back in Anchorage neighborhoods, the skies lit up on New Year's with the booms heard throughout the city. Many residents loved it. Others not so much.

The law had a built-in trial period of two years, so without any action by the Assembly in 2012, fireworks will again be illegal after this season.

Still, there may be some changes in store for this year.

Assembly member and mayoral candidate Paul Honeman says he plans to bring up some ideas about further restrictions on fireworks at the Assembly's meeting Tuesday.

At a Thursday work session for the Assembly's Public Safety Committee, which Honeman chairs, he told the handful of Anchorage residents in attendance that he wants the Assembly to consider a prohibition on fireworks in mobile home parks, where close-packed homes make them more dangerous. Honeman said he also agrees with a proposal by Police Chief Mark Mew that would limit the possession of fireworks in the city to a 20-day window.

Limiting possession -- from Dec. 15 to Jan. 3, under Mew's proposal -- would fix a flaw in the law, which inadvertently allows possession of fireworks year-round, Honeman said.

"It went from zero tolerance, none, to wide open," Honeman said.

But adding any restrictions to the law might not matter if a group called Anchorage 2020 gets its way. The group says the law should be allowed to expire because of fire danger and other negative impacts to people and animals sensitive to the loud noises.

The group says that includes soldiers with traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder; noise-sensitive children, some with autism; and dogs spooked by fireworks.

Chugiak resident Georgia Kustura described seeing fireworks in her horse pasture and large, booming shells exploding until 4 a.m. New Year's Day, well after the 1 a.m. cutoff under the law.

"If you give them a little bit, they take a lot," Kustura said. "(The law) allowed a violation of my personal airspace."

Linda Harter said that, aside from the fire risk and frightened people and animals, the fireworks also resulted in a great deal of litter around town that could hurt local creeks. The amateur fireworks also draw people away from the city's larger fireworks display on New Year's, Harter said.

"Allowing fireworks all over the city competes with their business," Harter said.

Chief Mew said enforcing the fireworks law is difficult for his officers on New Year's, one of the busiest nights of the year for police, he said.

"We respond to fireworks complaints, but the fireworks are not as high on the priority as other types of calls," Mew said. "The long and short of it is, our response to fireworks calls is often delayed."

Assembly member Dick Traini, who authored the 2010 fireworks law, said in an interview that the majority of fireworks users were safe. Traini said he plans to push for a permanent law allowing fireworks after this New Year's Eve.

"There are some people who'll never be happy," Traini said. "No matter what you do there's always going to be somebody that doesn't like it.

"You can't take into account everybody's circumstance, or nothing would ever get done."

Traini said he envisioned the sale of fireworks in Anchorage someday, perhaps with the proceeds going to charity.

Anchorage 2020 member Arlene Carle said that kind of expansion worries her the most.

"I just think it's a back-door, slippery-slope way to get us involved in something where there's no benefit, there's only risk," Carle said. "When you expand the use, you expand the risk."

Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson, also on the Public Safety Committee, said emails and phone calls after last New Year's indicated to her that about half the community was happy with allowing fireworks and about half were not.

"I think that maybe we can finetune the ordinance a little bit and take into consideration some of the concerns that the unhappy citizens have had," Gray-Jackson said.


Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

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