BELDING – Those looking to shoot off fireworks that may have gone unused during the Fourth of July holiday may want to think twice before launching that next rocket into the sky in the city of Belding.
After receiving complaints from residents within the city about noise from fireworks launched late into the night, members of the Belding City Council discussed options to pursue in light of recent changes in state law regarding the use of more powerful consumer fireworks during times outside of national holidays.
The Michigan Fireworks Safety Act was signed into law in December 2011 by Gov. Rick Snyder, effective Jan. 1, allowing the general sale and use of consumer fireworks.
However, a community government may enact an ordinance banning the shooting of fireworks, with the only exception being on the day before, the day of and the day after any major holiday.
On Tuesday, Belding City Council members discussed whether the city needs to take action on this issue. Additional comments were made by community members, Police Chief Dale Nelson and Fire Chief Gregg Moore.
Possible options are to leave ordinances as they are and enforce the city’s current noise ordinance, restrict newly-legal consumer fireworks as to not be allowed between 11 p.m. and 11 a.m., or to disallow newly-legal consumer fireworks use altogether, except for the 30 calendar days of national holiday use.
Nelson said he believes most residents will act in compliance with the new law, launching fireworks only around designated national holidays, but he understands that not everyone may abide by the new state laws.
“I think we will find with the law, the concentration of the use of fireworks will still be maintained around our summer holidays,” Nelson said. “The trouble is, we do have residents that don’t use a lot of common sense and choose to shoot them off at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning.”
Nelson said even though restrictions on launching fireworks are lifted during the three-day period around national holidays, residents can still be cited for violating the city’s current nuisance ordinance for excessive and loud noise.
That ordinance currently reads, “It shall be unlawful for any person to make, continue or cause to be made or continued any load, unnecessary or unusual noise or any noise which either annoys, disturbs, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace or safety of others, within the limits of the city.”
According to city attorney Randy Kraker, that ordinance could still be enforced during national holidays when fireworks are permitted to be fired.
Nelson said though the police department could continue to enforce the current ordinances and that may be effective, he believes additional restrictions may be necessary.
“Without changing anything, we could do some enforcement,” Nelson said. “But I believe it would be best if we put some time restrictions on the non-holiday weekends, possibly 11 p.m. at night to 11 a.m. in the morning, when it would be a violation to use fireworks.”
Nelson said the other major contributing factor when discussing restrictions to launching fireworks is dry weather conditions.
“I’m very concerned about the dry conditions and this year is exceptional,” he said. “But I think for us as a city, if we move forward with any of this, we can address a lot of things under the current ordinance with a few additional restrictions.”
Moore said though a new ordinance could restrict firework use within the city, he believes that will only push people into neighboring townships, causing problems for other fire departments and county police enforcement.
“If we pass an ordinance, we will push people into other townships,” he said. “Enforcing current ordinances is going to increase my workload, but I’m OK with that.”
According to Moore, dry conditions or not, larger fireworks present a much larger danger and are more likely to start fires.
“A bottle rocket that lands on a roof is going to start a fire, whether it is dry or not,” he said. “We were much safer without the new fireworks.”
Councilman Mike Scheid said he “doesn’t know if there is a good answer” in dealing with the new fireworks law and believes it’s only a matter of time before the state government makes changes to the law.
“The younger people are, the bigger the explosions are going to be,” he said. “In general, people just like to blow stuff up. We’re going to have problems with whatever we do. The state is already talking about changes to the law and it may be put out of our hands in a very short amount of time.”
Councilman Jon Bunce said he is in favor of additional time restrictions, but believes an increase in fines may be necessary in order to grab the attention of those who may not currently be thinking twice about the current ordinances.
“I think we’ve got to make the fines for these offenses steep,” he said. “I’m not going to shoot off a firecracker if I know it’s going to cost me $100.”
According to City Manager Randy DeBruine, the current fine for a first offense nuisance violation is $25.
In closing of the work session, Mayor Ron Gunderson said the best option may be to wait and see what reaction the state government has after the major summer holidays come to an end.
“I think the newness of this law is going to wear off,” he said. “I can see all sides to this, and the right to be able to launch these fireworks is one thing, but the safety and welfare of the community is also a big factor.”
No official decision was made during Tuesday’s work session. Any future changes to the noise and nuisance ordinances would be specific toward the use of fireworks.