Enfield Considers Fireworks Rules

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/20/2016 11:56:38 PM
Modified: 9/20/2016 11:56:42 PM

Enfield — Residents and vacationers in Enfield could see stricter regulations surrounding the use of fireworks next summer.

The Selectboard decided on Monday to further explore drafting an ordinance that would prohibit fireworks during certain times of the day, after hearing from about a dozen residents who spoke against the ongoing noise and possible pollution.

“Some people are just basically fed up with the continual bombardment of fireworks from Memorial Day to Labor Day,” Jeff Hinman, a Mascoma Lake residents, said on Tuesday. “This summer, my yard was littered with debris from mortar devices, and I’m not the only one.”

He brought evidence of that litter to Monday’s meeting, and presented the Selectboard with a bag of cardboard and plastic debris found on his property.

It’s not just the cleanup from fireworks that upsets Hinman and other neighbors. They also say neighbors shoot fireworks into the early morning, poison the water and present a fire danger.

“They practically go off right in front of my house,” Robert Richardson, who lives near Shaker Bridge, said on Tuesday.

Richardson said his neighbor often uses fireworks, disturbing his two dogs and making it difficult to sleep at night. He called the police once and the neighbor quieted down on weeknights, but continued late night displays on weekends, Richardson said.

“When you live right across the street from one of them, it’s a different story,” he said. “It’s a really bad situation.”

Richardson said he would be in favor of banning fireworks after 11 p.m.

Concerns such as Richardson’s found a sympathetic ear with Selectboard member Meredith Smith. She also lives on Mascoma Lake and said she can hear fireworks year-round.

“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.

Smith said she would like to see an ordinance that sets acceptable hours for fireworks, and proposed 10 p.m. as a reasonable cut-off time. As to any other prohibitions, she said it’s too early to contemplate what actions the board will take.

Selectboard member Fred Cummings said in an email on Tuesday that he sees the need to pursue an ordinance, but wants to make sure it’s not too restrictive. Any new rules would have to balance individual rights with residents’ concerns, he said.

“While I’m not overly happy about further regulations, I believe it may be time to at least explore the options on this one,” Cummings said.

“There were a lot of people there (Monday night) who want some type of control of fireworks,” he said. “I also want to hear from the other side as well.”

The board reviewed ordinances enacted by the towns of Sunapee and Newbury as possible examples on Monday. Town Manager Steve Schneider said those aren’t the only two communities to regulate fireworks, but they both close by and have lake communities. 

Sunapee’s ordinance requires people obtain a $20 permit for fireworks and only allows them to be fired off between 5 and 10 p.m. Permits are not needed on New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day weekend or Christmas.

In Newbury, a permit from the fire chief is also required and must to be obtained 24-48 hours before a planned display. The town doesn’t set specific hours, but the fire chief has the right to cancel a permit because of weather concerns.

Schneider said it’s unlikely Enfield will adopt either town’s ordinance word for word, but the Selectboard plans to review several towns’ regulations to create its own.

Enfield Police Chief Richard Crate said by phone on Tuesday that his department is used to responding to fireworks complaints, regardless of whether the town has an ordinance. He said loud noise late at night falls under disorderly conduct, and police respond in the same way they would over loud music.

When officers respond to a complaint, they typically just ask people to stop.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time — probably even more than that — people stop and they quiet down, and that stops the problem,” Crate said.

He doesn’t know what direction the Selectboard will take on an ordinance, but said it’s unlikely to stretch police resources. They respond to the most important calls first, he said, so no one would be in danger by officers enforcing the ordinance.

Residents’ complaints on Monday weren’t just pointed toward noise. Since many fireworks are shot over Enfield’s lakes, people also worried about environmental issues.

Fireworks contain some ingredients that are known to be toxic to wildlife, but there’s little evidence of environmental damage, said Alison Flint, president of the Mascoma Lake Association.

She said by phone on Tuesday there’s not enough research on how fireworks impact the water. She’s not sure why that is, but the association hopes to investigate over the winter.

“I don’t expect that we’ll do anything quickly just because the season’s over,” she said. “We’re kind of at a standstill right now.”

While the effects of fireworks on water are still unclear, there is proof they harm wildlife, said Catherine Greenleaf, director of the St. Francis Wild Bird Hospital in Lyme.

Birds find a safe roosting spot to sleep at night, she said, and loud noises are known to panic them.

“In particular, loons can end up stepping on their eggs and cracking them,” Greenleaf said. “Many times (the parents) will fly off and never come back.”

Those that do return often find their eggs taken by predators, she said, adding that it’s especially unfortunate that the 4th of July occurs around prime nesting time.

Schneider said the board is not going to rush creating an ordinance, which will require a public hearing.

If all goes smoothly, he said, it’s possible new regulations could be in place by Memorial Day.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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