Lewiston steps toward fireworks regulations

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LEWISTON — City councilors on Tuesday did away with a proposal that would have allowed unfettered fireworks use outside the downtown.

They will select one of two remaining proposals at their next meeting on March 6, voting either to allow rural fireworks three days per year or to ban completely the use and sale in the city.

“Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to said they support a full ban,” Councilor Craig Saddlemire said. “But if a lot of people want to use fireworks, the partial ban would be acceptable. But so far, I have not heard from those people.”

A new state law legalized the sale and possession of fireworks as of Jan. 1. The state lets cities and towns adopt their own rules, and several cities have already done that, including Auburn, Bangor and Portland.

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Lewiston currently has no ordinance regulating the sale or use of fireworks within city limits. A majority on the previous City Council supported a complete ban in November but couldn’t get enough votes to pass the measure on two readings.

On Tuesday, Fire Chief Paul Leclair said all three versions of the ordinance would ban the sale of fireworks within the city and their use downtown.

Each version differs on how fireworks are handled in rural Lewiston — the area in the city where firearms use is allowed.  Lewiston’s no-fire zone rings the central part of the city. It runs from the Androscoggin River, south of Merrill Road and follows transmission lines east to Grove Street to the eastern limit of the city. From there, it follows the Maine Turnpike back to the river.

One version would ban fireworks use there, as well as in downtown Lewiston. Councilors on Tuesday voted 5-2 to approve that measure on first reading.

Another would have allowed them in that rural area all year. That measure was defeated unanimously.

The vote was closer on the third measure. It would allow fireworks in the rural area, but only on Dec. 31, Jan. 1 and July 4. It also would allow the Fire Department to ban them in case of drought or fire danger.

Councilors approved it on first reading by a 4-3 vote.

Chief Leclair said he favored the complete ban, but the allowance for the three days would be acceptable, he said.

“I can live with that partial ban,” Leclair said. “When we crafted these versions, we wanted to give the council and the community the choice. Clearly, the simplest thing, from a safety perspective and enforcement, is a complete ban, but I think it is manageable.”

Councilor John Butler said the partial ban had his support.

“First of all, fireworks are legal in Maine, and this plan is acceptable to the chief,” Butler said. “This plan is extremely limited, but it does allow choice. Lewiston people can choose if they want to use fireworks or not, like cigarettes or alcohol. I feel this is the best option, and if you want to ban fireworks, you deny residents the right to choose. And I feel that is wrong.”

City Administrator Ed Barrett said councilors have two weeks to talk to their constituents before making a decision.

staylor@sunjournal.com

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