City vote makes first step toward lantern ban

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published August 12, 2015

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There were no explosive disagreements among Sterling Heights City Council members when they took their first steps to ban sky lanterns while also asking legislators to repeal changes to the state’s 2011 fireworks law.

At an Aug. 4 meeting, the council voted 7-0 to introduce an ordinance to ban the sale and use of sky lanterns. In a separate vote, the council unanimously approved a resolution supporting two state House of Representatives bills, HB 4725 and HB 4726, that would repeal the state’s current law legalizing the use of consumer fireworks.

Some city officials, particularly Councilman Joseph Romano, have prominently advocated for restrictions on fireworks and sky lanterns this summer.

Assistant City Attorney Don DeNault Jr. described sky lanterns as sort of floating aerial candles that typically drift off into the sky uncontrolled. He said the devices can pose fiery dangers tantamount to open burning, and they do not fall under the protections of the state’s consumer fireworks law.

“After doing the research, we are all in agreement that these are not fireworks,” he said.

However, DeNault said an exception in the proposal would allow tethered use of lanterns for religious reasons, provided that participants go to the fire marshal for an operational permit.

DeNault said he believes that Sterling Heights is the first community in Macomb County to restrict sky lanterns in this way.

“There are at least nine countries that have banned these things,” he said. “There are at least seven states in the union that have banned them. And there are many communities in Michigan that have in fact banned these or at least required them to be tethered.”

During the meeting, Sterling Heights Fire Chief Chris Martin supported both the lantern ban and the resolution supporting a repeal of the current consumer fireworks law.

Martin said it cost the Police and Fire departments around $43,557 this year in extra staffing and other costs to respond to fireworks-related incidents. He said the city expected some firefighter training funds after the fireworks were legalized, but he said the city has only received $3,150 in training this year.

State Rep. Henry Yanez, D-Sterling Heights, has been a driving force in the campaign to broadly restrict consumer fireworks again. He attended the meeting and said the loud fireworks disturb pets and people with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“At this point, I think we need to hit the reset button and start from scratch,” he said.

Currently, state law forbids local governments from generally banning residents from using consumer fireworks during certain hours on 30 days of the year, which are framed around holidays such as Memorial Day and Independence Day.

During the meeting, residents opined both for and against the proposals. Resident Harry Marchlones called a proposed fireworks ban “ludicrous” and said people have the right to celebrate with fireworks. He said cars and liquor cause much more damage in terms of expense and danger to lives while remaining legal.

“I think we just need to let people vote for these things,” he said. “If you want to do something worthwhile, put it on a ballot and let the people decide what they want.”

City Attorney Jeff Bahorski replied to Councilwoman Maria Schmidt’s question on whether nonprofit groups such as cancer-related charities could get some sort of exemption that would allow them to launch sky lanterns. Bahorski said the city could add language that addresses nonprofit use before possible adoption.

Mayor Michael Taylor criticized the idea of putting any sort of sky lantern exemptions for nonprofits or for religious reasons.

“If they’re dangerous, they’re dangerous for everybody,” he said.

Learn more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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