Editorial: Enfield May Lower the Boom on Fireworks

Published: 9/28/2016 10:24:01 AM
Modified: 9/28/2016 10:24:02 AM

The rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air are an indelible part of the national heritage, one recalled to many Americans by the fireworks displays that so spectacularly punctuate Fourth of July celebrations across the United States. But as with so many rich traditions, this one has fallen into wretched excess. Fireworks have migrated to New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, Labor Day, on to wedding receptions and outdoor concerts and, in some places, to routine private displays set off pretty much all summer.

One such place apparently is Mascoma Lake, where about a dozen residents recently approached the Enfield Selectboard about imposing some restrictions, relating their concerns about noise and the effects of fireworks on water quality. “Some people are just basically fed up with the continual bombardment from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” said Jeff Hinman, who not only endures the noise but also finds his yard littered with debris from mortar devices.

Selectboard member Meredith Smith, who also lives on the lake, agreed. “I don’t like being awoken from a sound sleep at 1 a.m. with a barrage of ‘boom, boom, boom,’ like I’m living in Baghdad,” she said. Who can blame her? Besides the toll on human sleep patterns, dogs, horses and other domestic animals are readily panicked by the blast of fireworks. And one can only imagine the psychological effect of fireworks on veterans suffering from the traumatic after-effects of having served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Moreover, loons and eagles are seen frequently on the lake, and there is ample evidence that fireworks startle birds from their roosting spots, Catherine Greenleaf, director of the St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital in Lyme, told staff writer Tim Camerato. “In particular, loons can end up stepping on their eggs and cracking them,” she said. “Many times (the parents) will fly off and never come back.”

Many fireworks also contain a propellant that has been shown to interfere with thyroid function in humans, although the health and environmental impacts of water polluted with this substance are not fully understood by scientists, according to an environmental publication of the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA law schools. Certainly, the environmental effects of fireworks on Mascoma Lake deserve additional study, as Alison Flint, president of the Mascoma Lake Association, suggested would be the case.

One Selectboard member, Fred Cummings, suggested in an email to Camerato that while he sees a need to pursue some sort of regulatory effort, any new rules on fireworks would have to balance individual rights with residents’ concerns. This is an interesting way to frame the question, one that has also surfaced in recent Upper Valley controversies surrounding the use of shooting ranges. It seems to us that what is actually being balanced in these cases is not one group’s rights against another group’s concerns, but rather two sets of rights: The right to make noise, and the right to be left in reasonable peace and quiet on one’s own property. It shouldn’t be too difficult to put into place some reasonable restrictions that respect the rights of all.

At the same time, we wish more people would realize that too much of a good thing is ... just too much. Fireworks are special when they are restricted to a very few occasions each year traditionally associated with them. When they are set off promiscuously, they become mere background noise (and light) to an already noisy way of American life. And when the thrill is gone, it’s gone for good.

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