Shelby Township tempers flare over newly legal fireworks

By: Brad D. Bates, Cortney Casey | Shelby - Utica News | Published July 2, 2012

 Freebie Fireworks set up a tent in Shelby Township selling fireworks that are newly legal in Michigan thanks to the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act.

Freebie Fireworks set up a tent in Shelby Township selling fireworks that are newly legal in Michigan thanks to the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act.

Photo by Brad D. Bates

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — As Township Clerk Stanley Grot opened the June 26 Citizens Advisory Committee meeting with an invitation for open discussion, the meeting erupted with, well, fireworks.

It wasn’t the drama usually associated with Board of Trustees meetings, but tempers were hot as residents conveyed their displeasure with the nightly chorus of booms and blasts that have become routine since the adoption of Michigan’s Fireworks Safety Act.

“When you make something legal everyone says, ‘Wow, it’s legal, let’s do it,’” Shelby Township Police Chief Roland Woelkers said in response to residents’ concerns. “And they’re not going to do it at just eight or nine o’clock. They’re going to do it at 10, 10:30 or 11 when it gets dark.”

Signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder late last year, Public Acts 256 and 257 of 2011 expanded the field of legal fireworks from novelty items, like sparklers and smoke bombs, to 1.4-gram consumer-grade products, like sky rockets, bottle rockets, helicopters and spinners.

“If your neighbor is blowing off fireworks at 10 or 11 o’clock, they’re legal fireworks on his property and the fireworks are not going off his property, he can do that,” Woelkers said.

State Rep. Harold Haugh, D-Roseville, who sponsored the House bill, indicated that making larger fireworks illegal did little to deter their use and lamented how Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin benefited from their sale to Michiganders in the form of increased funding and additional jobs.

Citing a projected gain of $8 million to $12 million for the state from the legalization, Haugh said the new laws symbolize Snyder’s urgings to find new revenue streams and create jobs.

In addition to the 6 percent sales tax, customers pay an additional 6 percent safety fee on fireworks. The first $1 million generated by the fee may be provided as discretionary grants to local governments to cover costs associated with enforcing the act.

“Under the Michigan Fireworks Safety Act, we are now allowed to have all these large fireworks, ironically enough,” Township Attorney Rob Huth said. “The act says some things that are relevant to us in the township.

“It makes it very difficult to regulate the fireworks as long as the seller has received a certificate from the state of Michigan. It does say that, if you light these fireworks off, you can’t be intoxicated, you can’t light them off in a public place — in a street for example.”

The new laws, which also prevent minors from using the consumer-grade explosives, prevent municipalities from enacting fireworks-use restrictions on 10 nationally recognized holidays, plus the day before and day after each holiday — accounting for 30 days where the local ordinances do not apply.

Municipalities have handled the issue of consumer-grade fireworks differently. Utica adopted an ordinance at its June 12 council meeting that outlawed the fireworks outside of the 30 days defined by state law.

“We expanded on the fact that we could prohibit it 335 days a year,” Utica Police Chief David Faber said.

The Utica ordinance disallows the use of any of the newly legal fireworks with the exception of the 30 days outlined in the state: the day before, of and after New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

Unlike other municipalities that cite violations of the firework ordinances as misdemeanors, Faber said that Utica chose to make the first and second offenses of the ordinance civil infractions punishable by $250 and $500 fines, respectively, rather than cite offenders for a misdemeanor.

A third offense in Utica is a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to $500 in fines and/or 90 days in jail.

Grot said that the Shelby Township board may look into adopting an ordinance specific to fireworks at its July 17 meeting. Currently, officials are using the township’s nuisance, littering and disorderly conduct laws to regulate firework use.

“What we have decided to do, if there are calls from residents regarding fireworks, we are going to explain to them there has been a change in the state law, and we are somewhat handcuffed in what we can do,” Huth said.

“If this is an ongoing concern with a resident, we believe our ordinances that cover disorderly conduct, nuisance and littering still are applicable, and they are especially applicable if the police find a continued thumbing of the nose regarding rights of your neighbors, they’re going to go out (and) follow up on calls to the extent that they can.”

Woelkers said that he envisions execution of the laws starting with a warning, and if the resident does not stop use, or is noncompliant in another manner, officers will issue a civil infraction for a nuisance violation.

If the fireworks user continues to resist or cause problems, he or she could then be arrested for misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

“When a citizen calls, we’re going to need some direction like, ‘It’s at 223 Elizabeth St., and this is where it’s coming from, and it’s been going on for quite some time,’” Woelkers said.

“We still have the normal calls like drunk driving or domestic violence,” Woelkers added. “We’re going to do all we can to make it better, but I don’t want people to have the idea that the Police Department is going to be able to shut it all down.”

Woelkers anticipates heavy calls surrounding the Fourth of July and hopes residents can be patient and respectful of their neighbors as his department and the township government work to address their needs within the framework of state law.

“We’ll evaluate it, see how it works and possibly get some other tools for later in the summer, so we can react and enact something very quickly,” Woelkers said.

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