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Residents upset over fireworks may see relief

New proposed ordinance would put some power back in hands of local officials.
Underwriting support from:

National holidays defined in the ordinance

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • President’s Day
  • Memorial Day 
  • Fourth of July
  • Labor Day
  • Columbus Day
  • Veteran’s Day
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas Day
  • New Year’s Eve

According to the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD), since the state passed the new fireworks law they've been receiving 40 to 50 calls a day from annoyed residents. Confusion over the new law left the police department unsure of what they could do about fireworks going off at all hours.

The problems stem from the passage of a new state law that went into effect at the beginning of the year. The law allowed the sale of certain types of fireworks previously unavailable for sale in the state. So those "commericial" fireworks with loud bangs and impressive night sky displays could be bought without the drive to Indiana.

Tonight, the City Commission will vote on an amendment to the city's exisiting fireworks ordinance. City Attorney Catherine Mish said there was confusion about the state law, and what local municipalities were allowed to regulate in terms of use of those fireworks. Once they had it sorted, a new amendment to the city's firework ordinance was written.

"We've tried to study the issue and determine what locals are allowed to do under this new state law. Once the new resolution passes, we'll have much more clear guidelines going forward," she said. 

The state law says that local municipalities can regulate the use of these fireworks, but not on the day before, day after or on a national holiday (list of holidays mentioned in the ordinance are in the sidebar). So count those up, it means the "ignition, discharge or use" of those fireworks would be banned 335 days of the year. Those who break the law could be charged with a criminal misdemeanor. 

"It would be up to the Judge to determine the penalty, but it could be a maximum of $500 and 90 days in jail," said Mish, the maximum for any criminal misdemeanor. 

However, charging offenders is more complex than it may seem. First of all, unless the discharge of the fireworks is an immediate danger, you're instructed to call the non-emergency number for the GRPD. Depending on priority, the offenders could have ended their nighttime show long before officers arrive, Mish believes the offenders would need to be caught in the act. 

"If the police can get to the scene and catch the person in a timely fashion, could we write them under the noise ordinances? Yes. Now, if we're talking about the 3rd of July, then I think we're talking about a different story because that would fall into the zone of the protected holidays." Mish said there are other ways that the police can ticket an offender and she encourages any resident with a complaint to always call the police. The new state law bans the use of fireworks while drinking alcohol or the discharge of fireworks on public property, for example.

The other side to this ordinance change are the retailers who have set up shop in the west Michigan area. Kansas based Jake's Fireworks now has 40 total storefronts across the area, including a 40,000 square foot showroom in the old Circuit City location on 28th street. Jake's spokesperson Jason Marietta says he expects the impact to their bottom line to be minimal. 

"Oh I'm sure it'll have some impact, but it's not like, oh gosh it's gonna put us out of business," he said. Marietta said he hopes commissioners realize the impact this ordinance change will have on residents, and the impracticality of the holiday-only rule.

"I think it's short-sighted, and I am not trying to be critical. This year, for example, the Fourth of July is on a Wednesday. If you limit use to just the day before and the day after, then people miss the chance to be able to shoot them on the weekend. If you take out that opportunity then those people who are complaining about the firework use during the week aren't going to see any relief."

Marietta also believes that enforcement will be an issue, saying that it's likely that people will either go outside city limits to shoot off the fireworks, or simply shoot them off anyway.

"This will be a nuisance for policeit's an unenforceable ordinance."

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