City Council Schedules Fireworks Issue for Work Session

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Friday, September 7, 2012, 12:00 pm
Erik Altmann

It's been a noisy summer in East Lansing, after the state legalized the discharge of a class of powerful fireworks without permits or time restrictions. City Councilmembers have suffered along with the rest of us, it turns out, and at their work session on Tuesday, September 11, will begin to consider ordinances to address the problem.

Bailey, where we live, sounded like a war zone on many evenings and nights during the summer, from before Memorial Day through mid-July. There was a lull as rental occupancy turned over, but this ended for many of us with a long series of mortar rounds in the wee hours of August 26. Then there were bottle rockets near our house at 5:00am on August 28. That night, I found myself at City Council, running down these events and asking for a sense of where they were on the issue.

They seemed to be there. Councilmember Vic Loomis told of being awakened himself and of hearing "enough is enough" from constituents. Councilmember Kevin Beard spoke to the right to quiet enjoyment of our property – a critical issue, because it's not just about good night's sleep. Councilmember Nathan Triplett briefed us on activity over the summer by the Michigan Municipal League. Mayor Diane Goddeeris assured me that I was not alone, and indeed a second speaker from the audience that night offered the welcome news that the state Senate will consider changes. (Sam Singh, our Democratic nominee for the state House, supports repeal.)

The state law, Act 256 of 2011 – the "Fireworks Safety Act", of all things – does allow municipalities to ban discharge of fireworks on most days of the year (all except the 10 proclaimed federal holidays and the day before and after, because nothing says Martin Luther King Jr. Day like fireworks). The law may allow municipalities to enforce their noise ordinances on the remaining days, according to an analysis by the Michigan Municipal League. At least 13 jurisdictions – Birmingham, Ferndale, Grand Rapids, Hudsonville, Macomb Township, Marysville, Muskegon Heights, Port Huron, Royal Oak, Sterling Heights, Walker, Warren, and Wyoming (see here, here, here, and here) – have adopted discharge bans for the days the state law permits them to regulate.

If East Lansing follows suit, ELPD will need a strategy more proactive than reacting to resident complaints if a ban is to be effective. Other strategies seem feasible, at least from a lay perspective. I’ve trolled around Bailey on my bike looking for launch cites, on nights with a lot of activity, and twice was able to find them, so had an address to call in with my complaint. In one case police responded in minutes, pulling up just as a mortar went up. I learned from this exercise that a bike is good for this – and that the process would be more efficient if the person on it were a police officer.

Enter the new revenues the state will collect from sales taxes and fees – about $2.6 million for the general fund, by one estimate. There are about 1800 cities, townships, and villages in Michigan, so if all the new money trickles down to help jurisdictions enforce local bans on setting off the bombs we can now buy at the Meijer, it’s about $1500 each – enough to buy a couple of pretty good bikes.

There is activity of various kinds at the state level, and a petition calling for repeal.  We can hope our legislators take back this bill, give us a rest, do some homework, and start over if they really feel the need.

In the meantime, see you at City Council on Sept. 11.

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